Biloxi leaders still unsure about new flood maps

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Their addresses aren't changing, yet it looks like thousands of Biloxi property owners will be moving into flood zones.

At a special meeting Tuesday, the Biloxi City Council discussed whether to adopt the new flood plain maps laid out by FEMA. The council took no action, but members know they'll eventually have to approve the new zones.

For 3,700 Biloxi property owners, the proposed expansion of the city's flood zone would mean a rise in the price of flood insurance.

"This rate increase is going to happen as a result of the National Flood Insurance Program being $20 billion in the red," said Jerry Creel, Biloxi's Community Development Director.

When looking at the price of flood insurance, location is almost everything. Right now a homeowner who doesn't live in a flood zone can purchase $280,000 of flood insurance coverage at a discount price of about $326. But in the flood zone, that discount is washed away and the cost jumps to about $1200 a year.

A bill up for debate in Congress right now could push the price even higher.

"There's a real urgency to pass the new flood maps... so we can grandfather as many people into that $1200 rate as we can, and not subject them to those much higher rates," Creel said.

Biloxi officials are waiting on a notification letter from the National Flood Insurance Program. Once that letter arrives, the city will have up to six months to pass the new elevation standards. So some council members say, "Why not wait?"

Councilman Bill Stallworth said, "When I get that letter, and six months after then if I haven't approved these plans, then I lose it. That's the proverbial gun to my head. I understand that. What I'm having trouble understanding is why I need to do this ahead of that?"

Timothy Russo with the National Flood Insurance Program said there are advantages to moving forward with the new maps.

"The benefits to your citizens right now is to move them back in and have them build better and safer, so five and ten years down the road when they're 60, 70 and 80-years-old, they're not going through this all over again," Russo said.

If the congressional bill passes before the city adopts the new elevations, Biloxi officials say some homeowners could see rates as high as $5800 a year.