EDITORIAL: New FEMA rules

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi U.S. senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker received encouraging news last week from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has agreed to stop using a “without levee” evaluation on flood plain maps when some type of uncertified flood control structure actually offers a measure of protection to homeowners and businesses.
The revised evaluation could lead to savings for individuals who otherwise would be required to purchase federal flood insurance.
If FEMA determines any area has a 1 percent annual chance of flood, property owners in that area are required to purchase National Flood Insurance Program coverage if their mortgage is backed by the federal government. Community leaders across the country have complained that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have disregarded locally funded flood control projects and repairs that may provide some level of actual protection.
Cochran and Wicker joined more than 70 of their colleagues in both parties in the House and Senate in making the request of FEMA, which certifies flood plain maps nationwide.
Tupelo, Saltillo and many other Northeast Mississippi communities are sited in flood plains, and the revision could be helpful to residents of those and other municipalities and unincorporated areas.
Wicker and Cochran both praised FEMA’s decision.
The new regulation would impact the designations on official Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), with which city and county officials in our region are thoroughly familiar.
FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told the senators that he has directed his agency to discontinue the practice of using “without levee” modeling in the FIRM modernization process, a joint press release said.
“I appreciate Administrator Fugate’s common sense decision to use modeling methods that more accurately reflect existing flood protection around the country. Recent heavy rains in Mississippi remind us that flood risks are real and that the flood map modernization process is a necessary part of protecting ourselves. Those at risk should purchase flood insurance,” Cochran said.
Wicker agreed.
“I am glad that FEMA was willing to work with us and take another look at the methodology so all communities receive fair treatment in determining their flood zone status,” he said. “It makes sense to take existing flood control structures into account. This should be a significant help to residents in areas that faced higher insurance rates.”
“In order to increase the credibility of our Flood Insurance Rate Maps in areas where levees are not accredited, I have directed my staff to replace the ‘without levee’ modeling approach with a suite of methodologies that are technically sound, credible and cost-effective,” Fugate wrote.
Discontent about the FEMA practice was widespread. For example, Montana’s lone congressman, Denny Rehberg, was among those joining the protest.
“It doesn’t make sense that levees you can see and touch will be treated as if they don’t exist on the new maps,” said Rehberg, a member of the Congressional Levee Caucus.
The collegial, bipartisan approach used to persuade FEMA is almost always better than individual protests or requests about widespread issues.
Flood protection and flood policy affect millions of Americans, but the policy application is felt most in communities and by individual property owners.
The new FEMA policy should lead to more reasonable evaluations and, it is hoped, less expense.