FEMA brought its new preliminary flood elevation map to the Biloxi City Council Tuesday morning. But council members refused to look at the proposal. They were upset that only one copy of the massive document was available. And they didn't feel like the special meeting gave them enough time to absorb the different height elevations being proposed.
The city council did watch a FEMA video Tuesday morning that was supposed to explain how the agency determined the height elevations on its new map. But council members like George Lawrence said the video provided few answers to their flood elevation questions.
"You haven't shown anything to me why we're changing anything," the ward one councilman said.
Lawrence wasn't the only Biloxi councilman expressing that frustration.
"We don't, at this point, really have sufficient information to even ask the questions," Ward two Councilman Bill Stallworth said.
FEMA sent two representatives to the Biloxi council chambers to answer questions, and explain how a new flood elevation map was created. Tim Russo made FEMA's presentation.
"We talked to the local community. But we also used technical data, as well, to develop these maps," Russo said.
But the FEMA officials only brought one map with them. That angered the council members. You see, they anticipate being bombarded with constituents' questions about the map. But they have no way of answering questions without individually studying the proposal.
According to Council President Ed Gemmill, "We don't know anymore than they do up until this point right now. And that's why we're trying to find out, so we can answer some of their questions."
The FEMA map will be the basis for Biloxi to help reduce flood risks for property owners who want to rebuild, especially on the city's eastern tip. Yet, even after a 75 minute question and answer session, the council felt completely in the dark about a complex federal and state issue that affects so many lives in the city.
"We came here to me looking for a lot of information. And we're not getting it," argued Lawrence.
Henrietta Williams was the FEMA's other representative who addressed the council.
"This is a regulatory process," she said. "What you're seeing now are draft maps."
According to FEMA, the draft of Biloxi's flood elevation levels shows heights that are about two to four feet lower than the advisory standards established right after Katrina. The expectation is that the draft should be implemented in a year.
But before its adopted, the public gets a chance to view the draft elevations, and make comments about them. Those meetings are next week.
On December 11, the preliminary maps will be on display at Hancock County's Our Lady of the Gulf. On December 12, Harrison County residents can see them at the coliseum. And on December 13, the flood elevation proposal will be at the Jackson County Civic Center. Each meeting will be from noon until eight p.m.
By Brad Kessie
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