Feds Set Rebuilding Rules In New Orleans- And They're a Mess

New Orleans residents have been on an 8 month hold, waiting to see if they will be allowed to rebuild or not. Supposedly we were waiting on new floodplain maps from FEMA. But as with everything else with FEMA, it wasn’t that simple.

In their infinite wisdom, FEMA decided to not release the maps we’ve been waiting on for 6 months, but to instead issue a set guidelines based on the existing floodplain maps. (from 1984)

While many people are breathing sighs of relief that we finally have the rules, I’ve already spend a few hours pouring over them and they approach non-sensical if you try to apply them.

The base rule works like this. If you live in a house that was more than 50% damaged by the flooding from the levee failures, you either have to tear down your house OR raise it up to the “Base Flood Elevation” or 3 feet off the ground, whichever is higher. [The Base Flood Elevation (BFE) is the 100 year floodplain.]

At first glance that seems logical. But it sets up some incredibly illogical situations. For example 2 houses, same value, both sustained 51% damage from the levee breaks:

HOUSE A:
Raised House, 1 foot BELOW the BFE. Must be raised 1 foot to meet BFE.

HOUSE B:
Slab house, 1 foot ABOVE the BFE. This house, even thought it is already above the BFE must be raised an additional 3 feet.

Raising an already raised house 1 additional foot is a logical thing to do if that single foot raises it from a 50 year floodplain to a 100 year floodplain. While it is a burden for the homeowner, it is reasonable.

However, raising a slab home -already above the floodplain- 3 feet in the air is simply ludicrous. That would put the slab home 4 feet higher than the frame home. Not only does that insult common sense, it puts a grossly undue burdern on the home owner who lives on higher ground!

That is only but one of many bizarre issues caused by these guidelines.

The guidelines actually punish areas of the city that improved their drainage system in the last 22 years. As I’ve said before (and gotten pummeled in the comments by idiots) the new floodmaps should, by all rights, show LESS of a chance for flooding in most areas because of drainage improvements made since 1984. – That’s why FEMA still wants to stick with the old maps.

FEMA is trying to broker a unspoken deal here. “We won’t take Katrina into account and you guys let us use the old outdated flood risk maps. WInk. Wink.” That’s not fair to thousands of citizens who have paid for additional flood protection.

It should be noted that the new floodmaps do not take last year’s flooding -an engineering failure- into account.

In the Broadmoor section of town for example, 22 years ago it flooded if someone sneezed. 2 decades and millions of dollars in drainage projects later, Broodmoor now rarely floods. Yet those citizens will have to raise their houses simply because FEMA is using old maps. If FEMA used today’s maps, many of them would not have to raise their houses.

Of course the whole thing is bogus if you think about it. None of this would have happened if the Corps had not been negligent in the design of the levees. We have a “Pottery Barn” rule in Iraq, we should have one in America. If the Feds flood a city, the burden to fix it should not be on the people they flooded.

These rules will also probably cause many historic homes to be town down for no reason. I can’t point you to an exact example, (yet) but I know there are 100 year old homes that have never flooded before and are above the floodplain that now must be raised (or razed) because the Corps designed the levee poorly. It makes no sense unless you consider Corps negligence to be a reoccurring risk.

It gets exponentially more illogical when you dig deeper into it. Financially it stands to be a boondoggle for both the people of New Orleans and the American taxpayer. But I’ll skip that for now, it gets complex. Suffice it to say that after 6 months of waiting for FEMA to finish writing these rules, it is especially discouraging that so little thought was given to them. I could have come up with these rules in an afternoon. Why it took 6 months I’ll never know.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It won’t be weather or geography that will kill New Orleans. It will be bureaucracy and stupidity.

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And my new commenting rules apply. I spent a few hours trying to understand all this stuff. (and I’m still only 95% sure I do 😉 If you want to debate something you’d be best served taking the time to get your facts right. Drive-by idiots will be mocked, embarrassed or deleted. My choice. Intelligent comments are always welcome. Even from Mantis.

And just in case some of you more unhinged commenters were wondering, in the Lower Ninth Ward -where they had 12 feet of water in the houses- most homes will only have to be raised about 1 foot. That should set you chattering.

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63 Comments

  1. cliff April 14, 2006
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