FEMA seeking comments on ‘levee-inclusive’ method

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), are encouraging community leaders, engineers and people in flood-prone areas to assess and then comment on a new “levee-inclusive” risk assessment process that will replace the “without levee” method criticized by the lawmakers earlier this year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has opened a 45-day public comment period on the new National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) “levee-inclusive” proposal for assessing the flood risk for those living behind levees. The new policy was drafted to supplant a “without levees” policy that disregarded many sections of healthy levees and flood control structures in the process of updating Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs).

FEMA officials have briefed the lawmakers on the proposed levee analysis and mapping process, which would include new opportunities for local participation. Cochran, Wicker and Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) led a successful bipartisan Senate effort in February to convince FEMA to end its “without levee” modeling process. In March, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate directed his agency to discontinue the practice of using “without levee” modeling in the FIRM modernization process.

“I am encouraged that FEMA has put forth a proposal and is opening it up to public scrutiny over the next month and a half. Obviously, this change is only a small step toward the long-term flood insurance reform we all would like to see, but I think we are moving closer to a policy that recognizes healthy infrastructure, encourages improvements, and gets closer to communicating actual risk to the public,” Cochran said. “I am proud of our bipartisan work with FEMA to seek sensible, positive changes to the flood insurance program during a time when Congress has been unable to enact larger reforms to the program.”

The public comment notice was published in the Federal Register yesterday. The comment period ends Jan. 30, 2012.

The “levee-inclusive” methodology would involve a process for more precisely assessing the actual flood risks in areas behind uncertified levees and other flood control structures. The FEMA proposal seeks to analyze levee systems by breaking them into distinct sections rather than wiping out entire levee systems during analysis if it identifies any concerns at any point in the system, as is the current practice. This data would then be used to draft higher fidelity flood maps that give flood protection credit for areas behind healthy levee sections.

Under the NFIP, if FEMA determines an area has a 1 percent annual chance of flooding, property owners in that area are required to purchase National Flood Insurance Program coverage to protect against such hazards if their mortgage is backed by the federal government. Additionally, communities with Special Flood Hazard Areas are required to implement heightened land-use restrictions.

Communities across the country have complained that FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have disregarded locally funded flood control projects and repairs that may provide some level of actual protection in the development of the new flood maps.

The Senators argued that the “without levees” method that disregarded the existence of uncertified levees and flood control structures unjustly ignored actual flood protection and could require property owners in those areas to purchase National Flood Insurance Program policies unnecessarily.

Cochran, Durbin, Pryor and Wicker worked together this year to find solutions to the challenges facing communities protected by flood control infrastructure. Their February letter to Fugate was signed by 27 senators — 14 Republicans and 13 Democrats. A similar letter from the House of Representatives was signed by 49 members of Congress.

Comments must be identified by docket ID FEMA-2011-0025. Comments may be submitted by one of the following methods:

• Federal rulemaking portal: www.regulations.gov  (FEMA indicates that this proposed policy is not a rulemaking, and the Federal Rulemaking Portal is being utilized only as a mechanism for receiving comments.)

• Mail: Regulatory Affairs Division, Office of Chief Counsel, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Room 835, 500 C Street, SW., Washington, DC 20472-3100.

NFIP levees comment website: www.NFIP-levees.com

• Federal Register notice and information: federalregister.gov/a/2011-32128.

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