Council reverts back to old flood map

The Biloxi City Council in a 6-0-1 vote this afternoon rescinded its pending adoption of FEMA’s advisory flood elevations, meaning that the city is once again operating under a flood-zone map that was created nearly a quarter-century ago.

The approved measure, proposed at the outset of the meeting by Councilman Mike Fitzpatrick and amended by Councilman George Lawrence, withheld any action on enacting base flood elevations – or enlarging the flood zones of the city, as FEMA recommended – until FEMA presents new maps to the city, which is expected sometime this summer, according to FEMA.

Councilmembers three weeks ago voted 4-3 to enact the advisory base flood elevations on June 1, or as soon as the final base-flood maps arrive. The majority of councilmembers said the increased heights of construction proposed by FEMA would hamper rebuilding efforts and cause undue physical and financial hardship on elderly and poor residents.

Council President Tom Wall abstained from voting on the issue. By rescinding a previous resolution and tabling the issue, councilmembers left intact a watered-down version of the FEMA-recommended flood elevations that was passed in May. The measure adds three feet to the existing flood elevations, but sidesteps the issue of enlarging the flood zone, as FEMA recommended.

Mayor A.J. Holloway, who has consistently pressed for adoption of the advisory FEMA elevations and the FEMA-recommended enlargement of the flood-prone areas of the city, said he was disappointed with the decision, which cannot be vetoed since councilmembers also tabled the issue.

“Building back in a responsible manner is one of the fundamental issues of our recovery,” Holloway said after the council meeting. “We’ve been told this by everyone from the President to the Governor and our own residents. Unfortunately, this represents a step backward.”

Holloway said that although the state Homeowners Grant Program requires grant recipients to build at FEMA’s advisory flood elevations, he questioned how city inspectors could enforce regulations that are not adopted in the city’s building code.

“We’re making perpetual victims of people who need help the most,” Holloway said. “Allowing people to build back under the old flood map – as we approach hurricane season, no less — puts them right back in harm’s way, even in a moderate storm or moderate flooding.”

Background on the issue

To read background on the council’s May vote on the flood issue — and to see links to the exisitng and proposed flood zones — click here.