Huge, stalled Mississippi River diversion won’t affect Plaquemines flood insurance: FEMA

Huge, stalled Mississippi River diversion won't affect Plaquemines flood insurance: FEMA
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency has concluded that construction of the $3 billion Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion will not impact flood insurance rate maps for Plaquemines Parish, a regional FEMA official said on Monday.

The announcement blunts one of the main arguments made by residents and officials seeking to block the diversion, which has been paused since last week. It contradicts an email message sent to parish officials on Aug. 30 by a FEMA official who wanted the parish to explain how it would assure construction of the project would be in compliance with National Flood Insurance Program rules by not causing changes in flood risk.

The diversion “may result in changes affecting the accuracy of the current flood risk identified on the regulatory maps in Plaquemines Parish,” said the Aug. 30 email message from Justin McBride, a floodplain and insurance specialist with FEMA’s Region 6 office in Denton, Texas, to Zach Smith, the parish’s chief building official.

The email was cited in the lawsuit Plaquemines Parish filed against the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority on Nov. 9, which asked a parish judge to enforce a cease-and-desist order on the project. The suit also asked that the state be required to obtain permits under the parish’s land use and floodplain management regulations.

The suit has halted construction of the diversion for the time being. 

This graphic shows all the different levee systems around the Barataria Basin. Full version of the map and explanation are available in the Co…

In response to questions from The Times-Picayune, a senior Region 6 FEMA official said Monday that McBride’s email is no longer accurate.

“FEMA did have questions about how the project was going to affect the parish’s existing maps,” said Charles Cook, floodplain management and insurance branch chief in Region 6. But he said those questions were not part of any compliance action.

“In talking to the parish and CPRA on Nov. 14 of last year, it was shown that the project would not impact the flood insurance rate maps and therefore was no longer a concern to FEMA,” Cook said. That meeting occurred four days after the parish suit was filed.

This map shows the expected land gain resulting from operation of the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion through 2070. (Army Corps of Engineers)

But in a statement Monday evening, Plaquemines officials said they are not convinced by FEMA assurances, saying Cook is not the official they’ve been dealing with. And they say the FEMA “community assistance visit” audit under which the concerns were raised has not been completed.

The parish insists that under state law, the project must comply with parish permitting, including assurances it will not affect flood insurance maps.

“Rest assured there will be negative consequences if this project is not properly permitted,” the statement said. “The parish is well aware of the laws and the consequences of not following those laws, which include altered flood mapping, higher flood insurance premiums, continued premium increases” and other consequences.

Officials with CPRA and the office of Gov. Jeff Landry did not respond to requests for comments. 

FEMA has yet to respond to a Nov. 13 federal Freedom of Information Act request from The Times-Picayune for correspondence with various local and state governmental entities about the diversion. 

The CPRA has a similar Freedom of Information Act request pending with FEMA . 

Diversion design

This graphic from the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion environmental impact statement breaks down the different features of the proposed diversion. (Army Corps of Engineers)

In its own suit filed in Baton Rouge on Nov. 28, the coastal authority argued that Plaquemines Parish’s permitting ordinances “are preempted by the state’s exercise of its police powers and the state’s constitutional authority to protect Louisiana’s coastline .”

However, a decision by Judge Tiffany Foxworth-Roberts in Baton Rouge that both the parish and CPRA suits should be heard in her court was overturned by the Louisiana 4th and 1st Circuit Courts of Appeal, and the cases are now before the Plaquemines court.

The parish stop-work order was initially issued on Aug. 11, a day after the state held a ceremony to break ground at the diversion’s location, near the community of Ironton on the west bank of Plaquemines. It was reissued last week, after both lawsuits were transferred back to the parish.

The 2-mile-long concrete structure will divert up to 75,000 cubic feet per second of freshwater and sediment from the Mississippi River into Barataria Basin. The state predicts the project will have built 21 square miles of land at the end of its first 50 years of operation.

The Army Corps of Engineers environmental impact statement for the project says water levels outside hurricane levees on the parish west bank could rise 1 or 2 feet when the diversion is operating, and has set aside part of a $360 million mitigation fund to help residents and businesses outside the levees elevate walkways or, in a few cases, will pay for relocations.

The diversion is expected to be shut down whenever a hurricane or tropical storm threatens the area, and thus would not likely cause storm surges to be elevated along the parish levees. Some levee segments are designed to protect from a surge associated with a so-called 100-year storm — one that has a 1% chance of occurring in any given year.

However, part of the area that will be within the path of the diversion is protected by a lower, 50-year levee.

The land created by the diversion at 50 years also is expected to help reduce surge levels by as much as a half-foot along several sections of levees on the river’s west bank, north of the diversion’s outflow area.


About Mary Weyand 14813 Articles
Mary founded Scoop Tour with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the Automobile industry, she also contributes her knowledge for the Automobile section of the website.

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