At long last, FEMA has released some flood map information for the New Orleans area…. sort of – it’s pretty confusing. Apparently, the “real” maps still won’t be available until the summer sometime, so as an interim solution, they’ve come up with Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs).
Is it perfect? No. Can people make a start? Yes. Not only is there a baseline (the old elevations), but the Louisiana Recovery Authority’s stated requirement for eligibility in its State Homeowner Assistance is met. The upshot, from NOLA.com:
In general, the advisories will require homes inside the levee system to be built three feet above the local grade, or at the current required elevation, whichever is higher. The ruling effects new construction and renovation paid for by flood insurance or federal aid when a home suffered more than 50 percent damage.
The USACE is on schedule to have repairs to damaged areas completed by June 2006, to have all federal levees constructed to authorized heights by September 2007, and to have fully authorized levels of protection and improvements to the system completed by 2010.
Although USACE improvements to the flood control system will make Orleans Parish safer than it was before the storms, they will not eliminate the potential for flooding. In fact, based on analyses recently completed by the USACE, the flood control system will not meet the standards necessary for providing protection against the 1-percent-annual-chance (100-year) flood, which is also referred to as the base flood.
That has, of course, been the hold-up. As-is, or even as-was (as everyone learned), the levees weren’t certifiable. From the DHS press release:
Today’s commitment by the Administration to work with Congress to request authorization and funds for this work allows FEMA to release the advisories, which recognizes the eventual protection that will be achieved once the Corps’ work is completed. Later this year, FEMA will begin its formal regulatory process, which ultimately ends in the release of final and binding flood maps that reflect 100-year protection.
Bayou Buzz has a Q&A posted, here, which attempts to explain things, and a separate informational post here.
Hopefully, this will start to break up the logjam so people can finally start the decision-making process in New Orleans. It’s time. Past time.
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Update: Evidently, some feel the FEMA guidelines are too lenient. From the NY Times:
Some experts were critical of the decision. “It’s wacky,” said J. Robert Hunter, a former director of the federal flood insurance program. “Three feet — where did that come from? Why are we building up three feet, when the water was up over the roof?
“What’s that three feet going to do?” Mr. Hunter asked. “Instead of coming up with real science, they’re making it up. Which means that people are going to be at risk, they’re going to die again, and taxpayers are subsidizing unwise construction with very cheap insurance.”
Actually, Mr. Hunter, what that really means is that people whose lives have been “in neutral” for over eight months can finally release the clutch.
The Washington Post has more information, here.