Council proposes lower flood elevations

The Biloxi City Council on Tuesday will consider passing a watered-down version of the FEMA-recommended flood elevations designed to reduce the damage from storms and flooding.

During a 1:30 meeting at City Hall, members of the council will propose that the city continue using a map that FEMA created 23 years ago to identify flood-prone areas of the city.

The council’s proposal sidesteps FEMA’s recommendation to significantly expand the floodplain, those areas identified as low-lying and having a greater chance of flooding. However, the council’s measure would require that new homes constructed in flood-prone areas be elevated an additional three feet above the current one-foot requirement.

Under existing city ordinances, homes constructed in flood-prone areas must be elevated one foot above the so-called “base flood elevation,” or BFE, which is the probable level that flood waters may reach.

The additional three feet being added on top of the base flood elevation — a distance referred to as “free board” – is short of the 9 to 11 feet that FEMA had suggested as the new base flood elevation level, which only FEMA may recommend.

Mayor A.J. Holloway, who in February sought council approval of the FEMA recommendations, said he was encouraged that council members appear likely to avoid tabling the measure a third time.

“This is an emotional and difficult issue and it’s one of the biggest ones we face.” Holloway said. “Raising the elevation is going to increase the cost of construction and may make it impossible for some homeowners to rebuild if their lots are too small.

“But with the tremendous amount of federal money our congressional delegation and our governor have been able to secure and with the outpouring of support and sympathy we’ve seen from across the country, we must be accountable. We must use this money to build back better and in way that will minimize the level of destruction we’d see in most storms. We do not want to be perpetual victims.

“To say that this will protect us from the next Katrina is not correct, but we’d certainly be better prepared the next time. Either way, it’s going to be a difficult pill to swallow.”

So, just how does FEMA decide the elevations?

One of the questions most frequently asked during public hearings about FEMA’s suggested flood elevations is how were the elevations determined.

As FEMA’s Region IV mitigation director, Todd Davison oversees the National Flood Insurance Program, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and other initiatives aimed at eliminating or reducing risks communities face from natural and man-made disasters

Davison explains the factors considered in determining the flood maps in this week’s City Desk. To listen to the 30-minute program, click here.

See the mapping info already online

You can find a number of digital maps on the city web site. A quick list:

To see a map showing existing and proposed flood zones, click here.

To see a detailed flood zone map showing elevations, click here.

For those more technically-inclined, the city’s geoportal has been updated to include a host of Katrina-related, detailed mapping info. To visit the geoportal, click here.

And, finally, the map that Mayor A.J. Holloway believes may be the most telling was mailed to Biloxi property owners in December 2005: The city’s Storm Recovery News mailout that month also included a map of the 100-year-flood plain and an overlay showing the initial damage assessment conducted by the city. The mailout also included news from FEMA regarding the impact on flood-insurance rates when construction does not meet elevation standards. To see that December 2005 mailout, click here.

Renaissance site includes updated minutes

To check progress on the city’s Reviving the Renaissance initiative, click here.