Biloxi Says No To FEMA Advisory Elevations

The vote on FEMA's advisory flood elevations came with emotional appeals from the two councilmembers who represent hardest hit east Biloxi. They say the 1984 flood maps that require 13 feet heights proved stormworthy.

Bill Stallworth of Ward 2 says, "Those homes that had been raised to that 12 and 13 feet level, FEMA had to pay little or nothing on those claims of people in terms of flood at that elevation. That tells me that it worked. We know that building back at that level FEMA has admitted they haven't had to pay very many claims, it works, it's safe. We need to allow that to happen."

Councilman George Lawrence lost his Myrtle Street home. Since the beginning, he has said adopting FEMA's recommendations will hurt the citizens already financially crippled.

"If they build a house, I talked to construction people, 1,500 to 2,000 square feet, that's $4,000 a foot and now you want to build them 12, 15 feet. That's $60,000 and the foundation, they can't build anything, they have nothing"

The vote buys a few extra months for citizens to rebuild according to the current guidelines and still be able to get flood insurance.

Community Development Director Jerry Creel says, "Nothing has happened to prevent East Biloxi from rebuilding. I mean, at any point since the storm, a property owner could have come in and obtained a permit to build at the current 1984 elevations."

This fall FEMA will present the city with its final elevation requirements. Councilman Ed Gemmill says the city should work with FEMA now instead of fighting the agency.

"My colleagues obviously would like the federal government to come in and mandate it on us rather than us working along with them as a local municipality. They want them to come down and say, 'Look we're going to threaten to take away all your federal funding for debris removal and everything else unless you pass this.'"

When FEMA presents Biloxi with its final height requirements this fall, the city will have 90 days to appeal. If it does, the city will have to provide engineering documation to convince FEMA why its required flood maps are incorrect.