Levee district to join flood insurance reform coalition
By ZACHARY FITZGERALD
MORGAN CITY — The St. Mary Levee District commission pledged $5,000 Thursday to help form a coalition with several other entities aimed at making changes in the Biggert-Waters Act to get affordable flood insurance.
Dwayne Bourgeois, executive director of the North Lafourche Levee District, said changes in the Flood Insurance Act caused by the passage of the Biggert-Waters Act in 2012 will dramatically affect people’s ability to be able to afford flood insurance. Bourgeois attended Thursday’s St. Mary Levee District meeting.
The North Lafourche Levee District has been working to get FEMA to give some credit for its non-accredited levees revised for a long time, Bourgeois said. The North Lafourche Levee District pledged $5,000 and got the same pledge from South Lafourche, Terrebonne, and St. Mary levee districts, Bourgeois said.
“We feel we need a local Terrebonne-Lafourche-St. Mary-type effort different than what’s impacting New Orleans,” Bourgeois said. Just a delay in increasing flood insurance is a win for New Orleans because they have 100-year flood protection, he said.
“So you just delay it, their (Digital Flood Insurance Rate) maps will come in, and they’ll be fine. We won’t be,” Bourgeois said. “We feel that we need to be part of the fix because, if not, someone else is going to fix it for us.”
The South Central Industrial Association, North Lafourche District, and Gulf Economic Survival Team are working to form the coalition and plan to hire a lobbyist in order to explain to people who are opposed to changes in the Biggert-Waters Act why the changes should be important to them, Bourgeois said.
“We should do something also,” St. Mary Levee District Commission President Bill Hidalgo said of participating in the coalition.
St. Mary Parish is unique in that it has some levees certified for 100-year flood protection, but also has backwater levees that are not certified for 100-year flood protection, Bourgeois said.
“This is the first time I’ve heard change to the Biggert-Waters Act, and I like that. Delay is not going to help us at all, not in St. Mary Parish,” St. Mary Levee District Commissioner Andrew Mancuso said in response to Bourgeois.
The Biggert-Waters Act will decimate parts of south Louisiana if counter-action is not taken, Bourgeois said.
The initial response to the act was from GNO Inc., a quasi-government entity around the New Orleans area, which Lafourche and Terrebonne also joined, he said. “They started a very broad grassroots effort to make legislators and people aware of the fact that these changes are very, very bad for most areas,” Bourgeois said.
The changes in flood insurance are unfair because they get rid of grandfathering in insurance rates where people built structures that complied with FEMA’s Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps at the time, Bourgeois said. With the implementation of new maps, those properties may no longer be covered at the same insurance rates, he said.
History has shown that to change legislation and regulation a three-pronged approach is needed, Bourgeois said. A grassroots effort, an advocacy effort that targets specific legislators throughout the country who are opposed to the changes, and a bill in Congress to make those changes are all needed, he said.
The group trying to form the coalition is also looking heavily toward industry and businesses to financially support the effort, Bourgeois said. The business sector probably has the most to lose because instability in the housing market and the inability for people to live in the area will cause big problems for that sector, he said.
“We’re looking to build that seed money to show that we have confidence in it,” Bourgeois said.
In other business, the commission authorized signing an engagement letter from CPA firm Darnall, Sikes, Gardes & Frederick to perform the levee district’s audit.