SATSUMA – Progress and ongoing challenges of flood recovery highlighted a Flood Recovery Town Hall meeting Feb. 23 at the Suma Center.

Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks told the crowd of around 200 he doubts the flood will permanently hamper the progress for what has become one of the top three areas for growth in Louisiana.

“I think we will eventually get back to where we were (before the storm,” he said. “I think the flood pushed things a year or two back, but the same reasons you’re all here and the same reasons people keep moving to the parish are still all here.

“It’s still the community, it’s still the spirit and it’s still a great place to be,” Ricks said. “It’s hard to talk about that right now because so many are still going through the anger and they’re in that depressed stage while trying to get back into their homes.

Permitting and building inspections remain brisk across the parish, but he said he does not know yet about the number of “as is” sales or residents who have walked away from the homes rather than rebuild after the flood.

“Right now it’s way too early to talk about that because right now a lot of people haven’t started working on their homes – they don’t even have their funds,” Ricks said.

Mark Harrell, director of the Livingston Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said he has fielded numerous calls about blighted homes.

He said it’s too early to address what steps to take on the dilapidated housing.

“We’re going to attack that matter sooner or later – we have no choice,” Harrell said. “However, understand that if it’s owned by a financial institution, we’ll force them to demolish the home and remove it – it’s not going to be on the parish’s shoulders.”

An estimated 20 to 25 callers call OHSEP daily to ask about removal of blighted homes, he said.

In a question on the class action lawsuit against the state Department of Transportation and Development, Ricks told the audience the suit remains in the early stage.

The cities of Walker and Denham Springs have Livingston Parish, the Livingston Parish School System and several individuals have agreed to the join in on the lawsuit which alleges that walls on the median of Interstate 12 caused or worsened flooding in areas north of the freeway.

“To my knowledge, nothing has done by the state because I’m sure they’re still collecting names,” he said. “We’re looking at years before anything

The main goal is to stop DOTD from moving forward on additional construction of walls, Ricks said.

Licensing, addresses, the amount of time in the business and whether the contractor operates from an office all play an essential role in the safeguarding against contractor fraud, said Paul Cook, of Cook Construction.

“One thing you should never do is give them money upfront,” he said. “If you have insurance and proof of loss, it’s not necessary because we’ll contact your insurance company once we’ve done a line-item check.”

He also urged discretion when working with an insurance adjustor.

“If you do have insurance, most of the adjustors who look at the houses were hired recently and haven’t been at it a while,” Cook said. “They’ll go in and what they’ll try to do a ten-hour job in three hours and they never come out in the favor of the homeowner.”

Concerns about contractors and ongoing home damage also figured into the construction.

The aftermath of the flood serves as an appropriate time for residents to check their home’s foundation for potential damage or termites, Cook said.

“Whether or not you had termites is something you’ll find out in a hurry,” he said.

Mold and mechanical/electrical plumbing are also key areas for checkup in the aftermath of the flood.

Issues related to mold figure significantly into post-disaster litigation, said New Orleans attorney Rajan Pandit, who represented hundreds of homeowners whose homes were damaged after Hurricane Sandy.

Removal of recurring mold after a flood does not fall under the homeowner’s responsibility, he said. 

“When the mold comes back, it’s the insurance company’s responsibility to pay for its removal a second time,” he said. “You have to let them know it is back in.”

He also discussed the meager settlement payments many homeowners have received from insurance companies.

“The first estimate from the insurance company should not be the end-all, be-all,” Pandit said. “You have to give them a line-by-line, detailed estimate on a supplemental claim – otherwise, you won’t get past the first phase.

Baton Rouge radio personality Scott Innes moderated the event.

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