New Laws Could Sink Fort Bend Levees

26 09 2011

Published by Katy Times on Monday, September 26, 2011, the following article was written by James Hale, Times Staff Writer.

“Katy business and community leaders were called upon to contact their national representatives regarding the current legislation on the National Flood Insurance Program, which threatens to negate millions of dollars of development of levee systems in Fort Bend County alone.

Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert addressed the Katy Area Economic Development Council’s general assembly to discuss House and Senate bills which would reauthorize and amend the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which would use actuarial rates to determine flood insurance premiums.

The House bill, passed in July, would implement the new rates over a six-year period and maintains the status quo with respect to flood control systems.

“House Resolution 1309 maintains the status quo for levee systems and land served by other flood control facilities,” Hebert said. “That’s extremely important to Fort Bend County, and it should also be important to any other county that has a creek, a river, a drainage district or is otherwise flat land.”

While both bills would implement actuarial rates on insurance policies, Hebert is particularly concerned with a provision in the Senate’s bill, known as the Johnson-Shelby NFIP Bill, that would classify land protected by levees as “areas of residual risk.”

“It means that areas located behind levees, dams, and other flood control structures – regardless of their certification or accreditation status – are areas of residual risk,” Hebert said. “Under section 107, (areas of residual risk) would be subject to mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements, and federal floodplain management regulations.”

Fort Bend County has over $10 billion in structures behind levees, and Hebert made the case that Fort Bend has already spent a significant sum of county funds – $45 million – to certify all drainage and levee systems on the 100-year floodplain.

“There’s a vast difference in the quality of design, construction, maintenance of flood control structures through out this nation,” Hebert said. “You can’t lump flood control devices into one category for the determination of risk.”

Hebert stressed that Fort Bend taxpayers have paid for the construction and maintenance of their levee system without any federal help, and have even contributed to the latest Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) project to map the flood plain.

The county gave $1.2 million, compared to $.8 million in federal money, to fund the use of light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology to generate a highly accurate flood map for the county when FEMA announced the project to map the area.

Due to a looming deadline, Hebert believes a continuing resolution funding the NFIP after Sept. 30 is a likely outcome in the immediate future.

Right now Hebert has had an amendment drafted and sent to the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee that would protect the investment his county, and many others, have made in flood control systems by classifying land protected by levees as above the floodplain.

In the meantime, Hebert is urging others to join the effort to stop the Senate bill, or at least amend section 107, which is seen as the most onerous part and grants FEMA power to enforce mandatory purchase requirements and federal floodplain management regulations.”

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