Area cities and counties join in lawsuit against FEMA

In a case of David vs. Goliath, the city of Fulton and Itawamba County are joining the city of Amory, Monroe County and Three Rivers Planning and Development in a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Filed on Aug. 31, the injunction is a direct response from local governments along the Tenn-Tom Waterway to FEMA’s threat to de-certify area levees and initiate a new floodplain map that could potentially hurt Itawamba County’s local industries, agencies and even Itawamba Community College.
“If we go by the new maps that FEMA is proposing, it would handicap Fulton, Itawamba County, Monroe County and Amory for recruiting industry, and our existing industries’ insurance would more than triple on their buildings within the floodplain area,” Fulton Mayor Paul Walker explained.

Negative impact
Buildings that would in some way be negatively impacted by the proposed floodplains mapping include a large portion of Itawamba Community College’s campus, including the Davis Event Center and Sheffield Hall; Tombigbee Electric Power Association; Kline Heating and Cooling; the Itawamba County School District bus shop; all the land above the Access Road, including MDOT, PSP-Monotech, Tri-State Lumber; Hickory Hill; Max Home and the Itawamba County Port.
Levees that provide 1 percent annual chance flood protection may qualify for Provisionally Accredited Levee (PAL) designation on floodplain maps. If a levee qualifies for this temporary designation, the community would have 24 months to provide full documentation of the levee’s ability to meet what is known as 44 CFR Section 65.10 requirements.
Because the Corps of Engineers has refused to certify the levees in Monroe and Itawamba counties, some new areas along the waterway would become flood zones which would negatively affect the future development of the property.
“We would be in serious trouble when trying to recruit businesses,” Walker said. “People wouldn’t want to put in any new businesses here knowing that insurance would be through the roof.”
FEMA is in the process of producing new flood insurance studies for the communities in Monroe and Itawamba counties in a process known as the Flood Map Modernization program.
FEMA has informed local officials that the levees along the Tenn-Tom Waterway would not be considered as flood protection unless they could be certified as flood control levees.
“The Corps of Engineers told us that the levees were not built for flood control, but for navigational purposes only and is refusing to recertify the levees on the east and west sides of the waterway,” Walker said, stating that government agency claimed that no money is available to bring the levees up to flood control standards. The cost of fixing the Fulton’s levee alone would breech the $200,000 mark, money Walker said the city simply doesn’t have.
The lawsuit that has been filed against FEMA, claims that FEMA has initiated a process that could de-certify the levees in Monroe and Itawamba counties and FEMA has not given these affected communities enough time nor adequate notice to secure the certification.
The lawsuit that has been filed is asking for an injunction to prevent FEMA from withdrawing the PAL eligibility for the levees in Monroe and Itawamba counties.
According to Walker, the odds of flooding in the debated area are almost none.
“Our levee is compacted, and would meet the requirements of a flood control levee from Lock C all the way up to Cummings Creek. The water’s never been above the rocks down there,” he asserted. “The Corps of Engineers won’t recertify it because of the trouble they and the FEMA got in to following Hurricane Katrina. That’s the bottom line.
“We’re fighting against this tooth and nail,” he added.
Local governments are receiving a lot of support from Rep. Donnie Bell, Congressman Travis Childers and Senator J.P. Wilemon. Local boards of aldermen and supervisors from both Monroe and Itawamba Counties are also standing in firm support of each other. Walker said he doesn’t know their odds in the battle, but he’s hoping for the best. Right now, it’s just a matter of buying enough time to strategize.
“We’re hoping to give ourselves 90 to 120 days to find a workable solution to this thing,” Walker said. “I don’t know. We want to feel like we have a good shot at this, but then again, we’re up against the Corps of Engineers and FEMA.”
Like David against the giant, these local governments will have to sling the stone and pray it hits.

Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141, by e-mailing adam.armour@itawamba360.com or by visiting his blog at itawamba360.com.
Chris Wilson is the news team leader at the Monroe Journal. She can be reached by e-mailing chris.wilson@monroe360.com

Adam Armour & Chris Wilson/The Itawamba County Times and Monroe Journal