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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Fort Bend Flood Management Association holds symposium on reducing flood risk

15 06 2010

The Fort Bend Independent reported on the recently held Flood Risk Reduction Symposium held in Fort Bend County on June 4, 2010.

The evolving Federal regulatory environment associated with flood risks, as well as emergency management challenges created by Hurricane Ike, played a major role in the recent creation of the Fort Bend Flood Management Association (FBFMA).   FBFMA members represent most Fort Bend County government agencies with flood management responsibilities.  The main focus of the group is protecting Fort Bend residents from flood risks as well as providing effective emergency management resources when necessary.

FBFMA sponsored its first annual “Flood Risk Reduction Symposium” on June 4 in Sugar Land, with over 100 local officials and consultants in the audience.   Among the featured speakers were Peter Rabbon, Director, National Flood Risk Management Program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), George Grugett, Executive Vice President of the Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association (MVFCA), and Susan Gilson, Executive Director of the National Association of Flood and Stormwater Management Agencies (NAFSMA).

Elected officials also presented, including keynote speaker U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, State Sen. Glenn Hegar, State Rep. Charlie Howard, and Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert. They discussed issues such as pending regulations, the National Flood Insurance Program, and the need for coordinated activity by Fort Bend flood management entities to address future crises associated with hurricanes or other emergencies.

Olson cautioned the audience about the potential impact to Fort Bend County residents of President Obama’s draft Executive Order 11988, which affects implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Hebert addressed the influence of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), initially created years ago as a minor agency, now playing a far greater role in the operation of other Federal agencies such as the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Levee Improvement District (LID) boards in Fort Bend County must ensure that they are proactively meeting and addressing the standards required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to avoid any non-compliance consequences that could cost residents millions of dollars in mandatory flood insurance premiums, he said.

Hebert said, “Levee Districts can no longer afford to be passive agencies. We must understand the issues, debate our options, establish consensus opinions, and, most importantly, let our elected officials hear those opinions as they debate future flood plain or flood insurance legislation.”

André McDonald, President of FBFMA, said, “The FBFMA membership consists of most of the local Fort Bend governmental agencies with the combined responsibility of protecting over 130,000 people and $10 billion of assessed property value from flooding.

FBFMA recognized that there was a need to create a higher level of awareness about what is happening at the Federal level in regulations on flood management.

The purpose of this program was to provide critical information and education to officials, consultants, and public sector policy makers who are tasked with flood management responsibilities.

McDonald said FBFMA will continue to monitor all activity at both the Federal and state level related to floodplain and flood risk issues and will also sponsor future events.