Northeast Miss. counties await their flood map determinations

By Lena Mitchell / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau

Northeast Mississippi counties have largely allowed revised flood maps to take effect without protest under a modernization program spearheaded by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
Two exceptions though – Itawamba and Monroe counties – are fighting flood zone designations on the new maps, which would devastate economic development plans for industrial sites in the counties.
After meeting a Jan. 4 deadline to appeal the flood zones, officials are waiting to see what happens next.
“We’ll have engineers and contractors to look at it and review all the data submitted,” said Al Goodman, state flood insurance coordinator with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “There’s no particular time frame from here. We’ll review the findings and if we agree we would reissue maps as preliminary once again and have time to review it again, then move on with the process.”
Though MEMA may not have a pressing time frame, the sooner the matter is resolved the better, said Greg Deakle, Itawamba County Development Council executive director.
“The information we produced shows flood levels about three or four feet lower than what MEMA produced,” Deakle said. “What we have done is given all that new modeling with very basic maps to them in an appeal explaining the methodology used. The feedback we’ve initially gotten from MEMA is positive – they like what it shows – but we’re waiting to hear something official.”
Both counties lie along the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which generally has been one of their most important economic development selling points. That favorable positioning is now in jeopardy.
As Amory Mayor Howard Boozer said in an interview with the Monroe Journal, earthen berms along the Tenn-Tom have acted as levees for the past 25 years, preventing flooding on adjacent lands, so what makes the area more flood-prone now?
Additionally, he argues, the Tenn-Tom itself can carry away flood waters and protect the region from flooding.
Monroe County hired a consulting engineer to validate the city and county’s position, and Itawamba County was allowed to use Monroe’s information to develop its own models and data.
The new Itawamba flood maps inundated much of old downtown Fulton in a flood zone, including a prime piece of property that the BlueFire ethanol plant is considering, Deakle said.
“Since they are considering this piece of property, they helped pay for the modeling because it’s in their best interest,” Deakle said. “There are no existing structures at the port or in town in the flood zone under what we produced.”
Their hope, said Deakle, is that MEMA will agree, then go back and rework data for Mantachie and Tremont, which they were unable to do with their limited resources.
MEMA and other state agencies around the country are acting as surrogates for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to complete the federal Flood Map Modernization Initiative, which has been under way for several years.
Mississippi had targeted a Sept. 17, 2010, completion date for all county maps, which are used by FEMA to set insurance rates in the Federal Flood Insurance Program.
Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, sensitive to constituent concerns about how FEMA has conducted the process and the potential added cost of flood insurance, co-sponsored legislation requiring FEMA to establish an independent review and resolution panel.
FEMA Flood Map Scientific Resolution Panels to review conflicting scientific data were established Nov. 1, 2010, but it’s unclear if one of the panels will play a role in resolving Itawamba and Monroe counties’ concerns.
As of Dec. 14, 2010, 49 of the state’s 82 counties had fully implemented the new maps, including 11 of 16 Northeast Mississippi counties. Prentiss County’s new maps are scheduled to take effect Monday and Clay County’s later this year, while no effective date has been set for Marshall County.
Itawamba and Monroe counties hope to be successful as Saltillo was when the city successfully challenged Lee County’s new flood maps in 2009.
“If we don’t agree the worst-case scenario is that the maps we issued wouldn’t change,” MEMA’s Goodman said. “We’d send a letter that the information had been reviewed, with a denial of the protest and appeal, then start the clock again with the need for the counties to adopt the maps within a certain amount of time.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.