Pascagoula leaders call out FEMA for ‘overly aggressive’ flood maps

Coalition announces new initiative, S.O.S. Pascagoula, to bring awareness to a post-Katrina federal regulation and call for change.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 7:53 PM CDT
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PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - The devastation of Hurricane Katrina 17 years ago is still causing headaches for Pascagoula. Community leaders said it’s all tied to “misguided federal policy.”

“FEMA has overstepped and the impact to Pascagoula is serious,” said Pascagoula Mayor Jay Willis.

“The 50% rule robs us of the ability to adequately care for one of our biggest investments,” added Jackson County Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Paige Roberts. “How does this happen in America?”

The group did not mince words regarding a post-Katrina federal regulation they said is hurting Pascagoula.

FEMA’s 50% rule does not allow homeowners to spend more than 50% of the structure’s value to improve their homes unless they elevate their property.

“The blight the 50% rule is creating is toxic,” Roberts said. “It is exponentially growing like a cancer. We need a cure.”

Following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA remapped the Mississippi Gulf Coast based on the impact of the storm. Before the storm, roughly 20% of Pascagoula residents lived in a flood zone. When the flood maps were redrawn, 90% of the city was designated as a flood zone. The increase in the cost of living forced many to live in other communities.

“We have seen churches lose members,” said United Way President Tee McCovey. “I’m part of a group of pastors. We have prayer meetings and this is an issue for us.”

Leaders said the majority of the homes affected are in working-class neighborhoods.

“Our people, first responders, teachers,” Willis said. They are the backbone of the community and deserve to be able to maintain and improve one of the largest investments they will make in their life.”

The group is now pushing for FEMA to not include areas that have only flooded once to be considered a flood zone when the maps are redrawn.

“It’s not just one house affected when the 50% rule strikes,” Roberts said. “It’s the neighbors, the churches, the playgrounds. Eventually, it’s the entire city and county, and that is what we are witnessing here in Pascagoula.”

Local and state leaders said Mississippi is losing an estimated $250 million a year in revenue from the 5,000 high-wage-earners who work in Jackson County but live out of state.

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