Northwest Warren County landowners along levee to pay more|[07/22/07]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 22, 2007

Two rule changes on the federal level are likely to affect current and future landowners in northwest Warren County.

One, adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspired by levee failures in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, is responsible for hikes in property taxes levied by the Greenville-based Mississippi Levee Commission, its chief engineer Peter Nimrod said.

Approved unanimously July 9 by the seven-member board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners, ad valorem taxes will rise by .21 of a mill on tax bills in Warren County, affecting the 500 or so property owners in levee-protected areas in the Eagle Lake Community.

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It translates into a jump of $2.10 on a tax bill for a property valued at $100,000.

&#8220It’s our first increase in 10 years,” Nimrod said, adding increases in cost of living, fuel, utilities and more have had its effect in recent years.

However, the millage hike reflects a new requirement that trees and brush growing 15 feet on each side of the levee be cleared during the enlargement project.

&#8220We’re having to hire new people and equipment,” Nimrod said.

Failure of levees and flood control structures in the hours after Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005, resulted in about 80 percent of the Crescent City being inundated with storm surge from the Gulf of Mexico and from Lake Pontchartrain.

Nimrod said the rules still apply, despite how well the Mississippi River levees performed in south Louisiana.

&#8220It held. No problems at all,” he said.

Following Katrina, trees growing close to levees were noted by the Corps to be part of the problem when levees across New Orleans were breached.

Root systems from trees and brush provide avenues for water to seep through, affecting the stability of the levee itself, Corps project manager Michael Stout told New Orleans City Business magazine in March.

Removal of trees and fences along private property along the London Avenue Canal in eastern New Orleans began this spring.

However, project managers there said at the beginning of the operation that obstructions on the levee or within 6 feet of the levee’s toe will be removed, in accordance with Louisiana law.

The other involves upcoming flood maps adopted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Maps for counties along accredited levee systems in the state, including the Mississippi River levee system and expected to be released by FEMA by 2010, will come with a disclaimer describing the area as an added flood risk.

It states: &#8220Warning: This area is shown as being protected from the 1-percent-annual-chance flood hazard by levee, dike or other structure. Overtopping or failure of this structure is possible, which could result in destructive flood elevations and high-velocity floodwaters. There is a chance that large floods will occur that are greater than the level of protection provided by this levee. Communities should issue evacuation plans and encourage property owners behind these structures to purchase flood insurance even if the structure is currently shown as providing protection for the 1-percent-annual-chance flood.”

In May, officials with the Clarksdale-based Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board voiced its plans to file an appeal against the warnings, citing its possible effect on economic development in the Delta.

Floodplain specialists with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency have sought to distinguish between maps with the new language and those without, MEMA spokesman Ashley Roth said.

&#8220It will be on the maps which have an accredited levee depicted on them and are in the shaded X zone,” Roth said, referring to areas considered moderate flood risks.

The Mississippi Flood Map Modernization Initiative began in 2003 as part of a larger effort by FEMA to update flood maps nationwide. MEMA is partnering with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality on the initiative, which seeks to implement digital flood maps for all 82 of the state’s counties.

Each county follows a seven-step process to adopting an updated flood map. As of this month, Warren County was one of three in the state in the &#8220review” phase, or the fifth step, along with Tunica and Pearl River counties.

Forty-one counties remain in the initial scheduling phase, with Rankin County the lone county to have its map already adopted.