Try as it might, Livingston Parish is having trouble moving passed the Great Flood of 2016.
Beyond recent headlines that dive deep on federal funding that has yet to be spent on drainage or mitigation projects, or perhaps the Comite Diversion Canal taking longer and long to come to fruition, now individual homeowners are having to deal with a very fresh reminder of a once-in-a-lifetime disaster.
Recently, letters were received by over 1,200 property owners in Livingston Parish alerting them that their home was 'substantially damaged' in the Great Flood of 2016.
Substantial damage means that the cost to repair the structure to it's pre-flood state would be more than 50% of its value. The same rule applies for adding onto a home or business, as well.
Councilman Garry 'Frog' Talbert (District 2) says that property owners have two avenues to take after receiving the letter, which include an appeals process as well as an application for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds for elevation or acquisition.
Talbert asked residents to call the Livingston Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (LOHSEP) at 225-686-3066 or e-mail email@example.com and cite their particular address and that they received a letter.
Property owners then have a choice to make. To appeal the process, they will likely need a 2016 valuation of their home, as well as local area comparables, and the expenses incurred in repairing the home. Property owners should also present a flood elevation certificate, if they have one.
HMGP projects can either elevate or acquire a home. Property acquisition will tear down a home, and remove that land from general commerce - wherein it can only be brought back to market through congressional approval.
Elevations come in the form of grants at anywhere from 75% - 100% cost share, depending on the number of times your property has flooded and at what elevation it sits.
Talbert said that LOHSEP will guide property owners through either process, but be prepared to do the work which should have been done in 2016.
The letters are a result of FEMA sending a delegation to Livingston Parish, post-COVID, to perform a site-by-site inspection of homes they believed should have been inspected in 2016. Read below for more background.
How did Livingston Parish get here?
After the Great Flood, the parish did it's best to work with the state's Washington, D.C. delegation, FEMA, and state-level authorities to begin the recovery process. However, it became quickly apparent that a part of that path would require inspections of homes which flooded, to determine if they were substantially damaged, and the parish did not have the labor to do so.
That lack of labor, combined with in-person visits from residents who could not afford to wait for inspections due to health reasons, financial reasons, or split-family reasons, caused the parish to make a decision - to issue rebuilding permits without an inspection.
Parish President Layton Ricks, in speaking with the New York Times on an article about communities not following National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) rules, said that 'he did what he had to do, and would do it again.'
FEMA offered assistance, at the time, which was declined by the parish and accepted by the cities of Denham Springs and Walker. Complaints were consistent and loud against both cities for their actions post-flood, but no residents of either have received any recent substantial damage letters.
Several letters were passed from FEMA’s Region 6 office to the parish in 2018 and 2019, and all of them cite a very specific passage.
An ordinance, on the books in Livingston Parish, is a key portion required for a community’s participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Called a ‘Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance’ (FDPO), the law usually comes complete with recommendations - or requirements - courtesy of FEMA.
The more strict the FDPO, the more points earned for the Community Rating System (CRS), which is a tiered grading average that applies discounts to flood insurance premiums within a community. Livingston Parish was removed from the CRS in early 2019 for non-compliance, dropping from a ‘9’ rating (5% discount) to out of the program.
Currently, in Chapter 115 called ‘Floods’ the Livingston Parish’s FDPO states the following:
Residential construction. New construction and substantial improvement of any residential structure shall have the lowest floor (including basement), elevated to or above the base flood elevation.
Substantial improvement also goes the other way - namely, if a home was substantially damaged (over 50%) and repaired, part of the repair process would be a required elevation to the base flood elevation or higher.
Since FEMA’s second letter, in May 2019 to the parish, the organization has been fixated on their data that shows at least 4,000 homes were in Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA) during the Great Flood, and the parish should have inspected their damage.
The parish submitted roughly 343 inspections after the flood.
That inspection total, combined with FEMA’s internal data, and multiplied by the parish’s inability to produce both permits and flood elevation certificates for a large amount of homes in Livingston Parish pushed the federal organization to seek punitive measures - starting with CRS removal.
Eventually, it was determined that FEMA would not remove Livingston Parish from the NFIP, instead electing to send down a working delegation to go door-to-door with former Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Mark Harrell and current director Brandi Janes and the LOHSEP team to determine whether or not homes in SFHA areas would be interested in elevation.
The group will also be seeking out repair amounts and substantial damage determinations. The number that continues to be iterated, 4,000, was not set in stone. The inspections and receipts from repairs had to prove that repairs were less than half of the value of the home (land is not included in the value) then those homes in SFHA will be offered elevation, but it will not be required.
That number, eventually, landed at roughly 1,200 structures.