FEMA Pushes Higher Flood Elevation Standards

It's been two months since Katrina washed away so many homes across South Mississippi. Now, more and more homeowners are eager to rebuild. But, state and federal emergency officials say the current flood maps don't predict the true flood risk.

"The current engineering on your current flood maps is anywhere between 20 to 25 years old. In the last few years, we've had quite a few more storms," said David Stearrett of FEMA.

FEMA and MEMA recommend building homes four to six feet above current levels in Harrison County. Officials say people who build under the current flood maps won't be penalized. But, if the county adopts the higher standards, homeowners will enjoy lower flood insurance rates.

"You lower the risk, you lower your rates, you lower your premiums," said Bob Durrin of FEMA.

And homeowners in high-risk areas could be eligible for "Increased Cost of Compliance," or ICC funds, to elevate their homes.

"In the advisory areas, if they were insured, and had substantial damage, they would be eligible for ICC up to $30,000 of support to retrofit a building," said Durrin.

Right now, the county does not have to adopt the flood elevation guidelines, but it may have to take action next year. In about 14-months, those elevation guidelines will be incorporated into new Flood Insurance Rate Maps. The county must adopt those maps, or risk being suspended from the National Flood Insurance Program.

FEMA admits it's a tough decision to make, but officials say the county must put safety as the number one priority.

"The main thing here is if Hurricane Georges comes in, which is a much lesser event then Katrina, the flood waters come in, guess what, you go around and count what didn't get damaged, because we made the right decisions now," said Stearrett.

The board did not make a decision Friday. Instead, it voted to take the matter under consideration. The biggest concern for many supervisors is the increased cost of building homes higher.

"But if we adopt the higher elevation requirements, what we're doing is imposing the costs on our citizens to build back," said Supervisor Marlin Ladner.

The supervisors say since it's a coast wide debate, they'd like to hold a regional summit to get input from each city and county on the proposed flood elevations.