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Many damaged homes not consistent with current FEMA regulations cannot be repaired

Changes coming to building codes, but nothing certain, yet

Ocean Springs — Donovan Scruggs, director of community development and planning for Ocean Springs, said it isn’t likely that people are going to be required to build to a level where they wouldn’t have received any damage from Hurricane Katrina.

“You can’t make people construct on 50-foot pilings,” Scruggs said. “I’ve heard the storm surge was between 25 and 30 feet. I know houses on the beach constructed at 18 or 19 feet that went completely underwater.”

It could be a while before post-Katrina base flood zone levels are determined. Scruggs said in conversations with building officials in Escambia County, Fla., a year after Hurricane Ivan new zoning codes have not yet been adopted.

“They aren’t allowing a lot of construction until they get those regulations in place,” he said. “We hope people can build back as soon as possible, but we want to make sure that whatever is built back will last. We don’t want to make a hasty decision and find ourselves going in the wrong direction.

“If someone comes in and is ready to construct, we can certainly review their plans. But many of the homes that were damaged were built below the base flood elevation. Many of the homes partially destroyed cannot be repaired because they are not consistent with the current FEMA regulations.”

Change in thinking

Prior to the storm, the Ocean Springs Planning Department was having discussions about modifying the existing flood ordinance to require all structures have the lowest horizontal member two feet above base flood elevation. The current ordinance just requires building to the base flood elevation.

“We assumed increasing that was going to be quite a political battle because of the expenses associated with it,” Scruggs said. “However, at this point we think it may be welcomed a little more. Many houses flooded by a foot or two of water were at 19 or 20 feet, so the proposal to increase to two feet above the base flood elevation wouldn’t have helped them.”

Redrawing the maps?

FEMA will likely redraw the flood zone maps as a result of Katrina.

“One thing we have been saying in this city for several years now is that a 25-year flood happens about three times a year, and the 100-year flood occurs every two or three years,” Scruggs said. “I really am not certain what FEMA is going to do with these existing flood maps. We have to take some local actions to make sure our property owners are protected. But I do not think we are going to require people to construct to Katrina standards.”

Besides base flood elevation, another consideration is going to be the structure beneath elevated buildings. Scruggs said just because you build on piers doesn’t mean it will be any better if the piers are undermined during an event like a hurricane. Pilings or more substantial footings or foundations for structures in flood- prone areas may be required.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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