WALKER, La (NBC33) — It’s the first time many people living in Livingston Parish will have to pay flood insurance. That’s because the brand new federal insurance flood maps just went into effect. Under them, thousands of residents are newly included in at risk flood zones.
That means they will be required by their mortgage companies to pay up to $3,000 in flood insurance depending upon where they live in the zones. However, Parish President, Layton Ricks, says there’s a problem with the maps. He says FEMA didn’t conduct a new flood study in the parish before finalizing the new flood zones.
“They’re taking an old study and comparing it with new bench marks, which are correct, but the flood study is from an old study, I believe from 2001, and that’s like comparing apples and oranges,” Ricks explains.
He says the only way to make the maps fair is to conduct a new study, but that will cost money that neither the parish, nor FEMA, has right now.
People across the parish who have been impacted by the new maps are not happy about the changes. In one Walker subdivision, residents can’t believe their homes now fall within a flood zone. That’s because they’ve never seen a drop of flood water in their homes.
Kenneth Stafford has lived on the same property for about 70 years. “It didn’t flood here then and it doesn’t flood here now,” he says.
Now, thanks to the new FEMA flood maps, the houses in his Walker subdivision, called Staffordshire, fall within the flood zone. “It doesn’t make any sense,” Stafford says.
It’s happening areas all over the parish that are normally high and dry during wet weather, and Stafford says, it’s not fair.
“Personally, I think it’s a way for the government to get more money,” he says. “They want to do what they want to do and people living in these areas have to pay the consequences.”
He’s not alone in his frustration. His friend and neighbor, Arthur Israel, lives on one of the highest spots in Staffordshire. “We went through Hurricane Allison,” he says. “She dropped 20 inches and nobody hardly had it in their yards here.”
Israel says he doesn’t feel like FEMA took residents’ opinions into account when they made these maps. “In Walker it’s just terrible what they did and to all the people who are in these flood zones,” he says.
Now, people who never had to pay flood insurance in the past will have to cough up a lot of cash every year. “Its money out of our pockets that we don’t have,” says Jason Gerard. He’s lived in Staffordshire for six years.
Stafford says he’s not paying. “They can’t force me to pay flood insurance. I don’t have a mortgage anymore. I don’t need flood insurance, so why pay for it?”
He refuses to accept the new maps as the right ones. “This isn’t America anymore,” he says. “We’re being forced to do something that we aren’t supposed to be forced to do.”
FEMA Deputy Section Chief, Michael Hunnicutt, says the new flood maps provide the best available data for at risk flood zones in Livingston Parish. FEMA looked at existing topography, existing elevations, rain-fall data, and historic storm and hurricane information to decide how to best plan out the new maps.
Residents say they were upset that FEMA didn’t work with them more to plan these maps, but Hunnicutt says they gave ample opportunity for people living in the community to get involved. He says public input is part of the development process. Back in 2008, they had preliminary maps available before an Open House. People also had the opportunity to appeal or protest any of the maps back in 2008. He says all of those meetings and time limits were advertised by the parish. Hunnicutt says parish officials worked with FEMA for three years to develop the final maps.
If a community chooses not to be a part of the flood zone, no property owners within that community would be able to purchase federally-backed flood insurance. That also means that disaster assistance would not be available if needed.
If you want to take a look at the new maps, check out http://lamp.lsuagcenter.com/?FIPS=22063