Jackson County

Jackson County leaders call higher building elevations ‘unfair’

County Planning Director Michele Coats tells the Jackson County Board of Supervisors that a new HUD proposal could mean higher elevations even though the county was remapped after Katrina.
County Planning Director Michele Coats tells the Jackson County Board of Supervisors that a new HUD proposal could mean higher elevations even though the county was remapped after Katrina. klnelson@sunherald.com

It could be devastating to Jackson County, especially Pascagoula, county Planning Director Michele Coats told supervisors Monday.

So they agreed to join opposition to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development’s proposal to require 2 to 3 more feet in elevation if home-builders want to sell their work to buyers using mortgages backed by the Federal Housing Administration or the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The added 2 or 3 feet HUD is proposing is particularly unfair to Mississippi, Coats said, because its elevations already are higher than Alabama’s. Mississippi was remapped using modern technology to determine flood elevations after Hurricane Katrina.

So right now, just across the state line in Alabama, a homeowner could build to an elevation lower than if they were in Jackson County.

There’s already a five-foot difference in our elevations and those in Grand Bay (Alabama).

Jackson County Planning Director Michele Coats

“There’s already a 5-foot difference in our elevations and those in Grand Bay (Alabama),” she said. “It could substantially hurt development in Jackson County.”

So the federal proposal to add elevation for lending purposes seemed like a slap in the face, they said.

Supervisors agreed to an opposition letter to be delivered electronically by Dec. 27.

It says that, because maps vary so much from state to state, adding 2 feet would “further penalize states (like Mississippi) that have up-to-date flood zone maps,” and it “promotes uncertainties and inconsistencies for those wishing to invest in Jackson County.”

The proposed changes stem from a presidential executive order in February 2015.

The proposal applies to new structures and those adding substantial improvements. Theoretically, someone could have a house where a new addition is elevated higher than the original structure.

Supervisor Randy Bosarge said the HUD requirement could apply to homes built or rebuilt since Katrina.

“Existing homes at or below the Base Flood Elevation would be the hardest hit,” he said.

But Pascagoula stands to lose the most.

In a city where 85 percent of the structures are in a flood zone, city leaders said such a proposal could “definitely hurt residential development.” Rebuilding homes has been a priority in Pascagoula, because it estimates about 5,000 residents left after Katrina.

Florida and Alabama are in the process of being remapped with the new post-Katrina technology, but all who build in Mississippi currently have to build higher. And since building higher costs more, it becomes an unfair advantage for those states, Coats said.

“Look at the map,” she said, pointing to the state line between Mississippi and Alabama. “It’s an imaginary line. But look.”

On one side of the line, in Jackson County, building elevation requirements are marked 15 feet. On the other side, in Alabama, it’s 10 feet.

Steve Champlin, Mississippi’s flood map coordinator, said he has seen the new remapping in parts of Florida, and it looks like elevations have come up four to five feet.

When remapping is being completed, there will be no difference in elevations at the state line, he said. “They are required to come up to our elevation at the state line.”

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