FEMA replies to AG’s floodplain request
by Chance Wright
Dec 05, 2011 | 5071 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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During the spring much of Bolivar County watched anxiously as the Mighty Mississippi overflowed its banks and left a path of destruction to full-time residents and recreational property owners on the inside of the levee system.

FEMA representatives spent months in the area to help reassure those residents and to help them pick up the pieces and understand the ordinances that were put into place by the National Flood Insurance Program.

Then in August, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood took things a step further when he petitioned the state’s congressional delegation to step in and provide a federal waiver of FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Ordinance for hunting and fishing camps located in the Delta region.

Earlier this week, The Bolivar Commercial came into possession of a written response from David Miller, associate administrator for the Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, to the attorney general’s request.

In the response Miller writes that Mississippi Code Section 17-2-9 is contrary to the floodplain management requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program. 

“There is a requirement that a community must adopt adequate floodplain management regulations before joining the NFIP and is a condition of eligibility that cannot be waived,” said Miller. “If a community lacks the ability to legally enforce its floodplain management ordinance uniformly, then it is not in compliance with the NFIP.”

What this means is that the 320 Mississippi communities, which includes 87,882 flood insurance policies and just over $18 billion in flood coverage, could be threatened of termination because of Mississippi Code Section 17-2-9.

“If a flood disaster occurs in a suspended community, then most types of federal disaster assistance to individuals and households for housing and personal property would not be a available,” added Miller. “So, should the state want to continue its participation in NFIP, then Section 17-2-9 of the Mississippi Code must be remedied before the end of the 2012 Mississippi State Legislative Session. Should that action not occur, Mississippi communities would be suspended from the NFIP effective on May 5, 2012.”

In Hood’s August petition, he asked that FEMA honor “state law and waive enforcement of flood ordinances on flooded fish and hunting camps.” 

Under FEMA’s Flood Mitigation Ordinance, all structures located in certain flood prone areas must be elevated over the base flood elevation, or the 100 year flood plain.

Also, in order for counties to be eligible for flood aid, FEMA requires them to adopt and enforce their ordinances without regard for the state law exception.

Hood cited that Section 1316 of the National Flood Insurance Act, 42 U.S.C., 4023 makes noncompliant hunting and fishing camps ineligible to purchase Federal flood insurance.

He then concluded that Mississippi Code Section 17-2-9 prohibits counties and cities from enforcing building codes, including local floodplain management ordinances, against duly qualified hunting and fishing camps. 

“Simply put, either you adhere to FEMA’s ordinances and policies or the entire state loses federal funding in dealing with floods disasters.

“This is not simply a matter of residences in Bolivar County or the Delta Region,” said Bill Quinton, director of the Bolivar County Emergency Management Agency in August. “Everyone across the state, including the Gulf Coast, could lose federal funding needed to help rebuild after flooding disasters.”

Upon being contacted on Saturday, Sen. Willie Simmons (D) said that this issue was something that would certainly have to be looked at in the upcoming legislative session and that he would hope that lawmakers would come to a decision to allow the state to remain in the NFIP program. Other than that he declined to comment more at this time.