Hancock County

Rumors fly in Bay: Did City Council endanger residents’ flood insurance?

Aerial view of Bay St. Louis city harbor.
Aerial view of Bay St. Louis city harbor. jmitchell@sunherald.com File

Rumors that began swirling last week that residents are in danger of losing their flood-insurance coverage are not exactly true.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Lee Smithson met with the Bay St. Louis City Council on Thursday and said “in no way, shape or form” would the residents lose their insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.

The rumors stemmed from a letter MEMA sent to city officials saying the city’s flood damage prevention ordinance contained a clause that was not compliant with NFIP regulations. In the letter, MEMA requested additional documentation on the city’s plan to correct the ordinance by May 8.

Many residents and city leaders interpreted the letter to mean the city would lose NFIP protection by May 8, so the council promptly scheduled a meeting and requested MEMA officials attend and explain what course of action was needed.

Smithson did attend, and reassured them Bay residents were not in danger of losing flood coverage.

“FEMA is not going to let that happen,” he said. FEMA administers the federal flood-insurance program.

He did, however, advise the council to bring its ordinance into compliance. The non-compliant language was a broad provision allowing property owners in “V zones” (low-lying flood zones) to use up to 2 feet of fill on their land without prior approval. This provision could allow property owners to raise the base level of their land, which could disrupt the floodplain by diverting flood waters onto adjacent properties, according to MEMA.

Councilman Mike Favre said the ordinance appeared to be compliant, according to the city’s construction-code consultant and FEMA’s own literature, which states non-structural fill in V zones is acceptable.

“Placement of up to 2 feet of fill under or around an elevated building can be assumed to be acceptable without engineering analysis or certification,” the bulletin states.

Nevertheless, the council unanimously voted to amend the language, making the provision more restrictive. The new language allows the use of fill up to 2 feet in height but only with prior approval, granted on a case-by-case basis.

The amendment brings the city back into compliance, according to MEMA’s interpretation.

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller