FEMA-ambushed landowners got no notice|Guest Column

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I want to thank Danny Barrett Jr. and Katie Carter of The Vicksburg Post staff for the excellent July 25 article concerning FEMA and its flood plain maps.

I would like to add a point of clarification concerning two points brought out in the article and a third point not discussed.

One is the data supporting the Special Flood Hazard Area and the other concerns the public meetings. The third point concerns future studies.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The Special Flood Hazard Area is not — I repeat not — supported by any detailed engineering data or analysis. This simply means FEMA does not have any elevations established nor has FEMA determined a base flood elevation for a given area. This means FEMA does not know how deep the water is supposed to get to pose a threat to my home!

Mr. Barrett quotes the FEMA spokesperson Jody Cottrill, as saying, “It’s incumbent on the landowner” to fill in the engineering gap. Why? FEMA has no data and the landowner is supposed to foot the bill for the engineering? There is something very wrong with this methodology. FEMA calls this an inadvertent inclusion. This policy has gone on far too long and needs to be reviewed and corrected. I surely hope that this is still the land where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. How has this agency managed to twist this concept?

The public meetings that were held between 2004 and the fall of 2008 were not advertised to such a point that all interested or targeted audiences were reached.

In a Feb. 23, 2007 letter, Mr. Al Goodman Jr., state coordinator of the National Flood Insurance Program, he encouraged the Warren County Board of Supervisors to publicize these meetings in order to reach the targeted audience. I have lived on Sweetgum Lane for 15 years. Some of my neighbors have lived in the area for over 35 years. During this period of time we have never seen a house flooded, so there was no reason for us to realize that we were in a potential flood plain. Also, my deed has a survey attached that states that my property is not in the flood plain.

The maps available at the courthouse clearly show that the board of supervisors had the information to be able to notify every known street address that their property was being considered for placement in a non-engineered flood plain map by FEMA. Did they do this? No. A very generic ad was placed in the paper. How were we to know unless someone told us!!!

I have or did have several friends on the board of supervisors. They need to understand that most parents do not go the local school’s PTA or PTO meeting if they don’t have children in the school. And likewise, attending a flood plain meeting when one has no idea that their property maybe included in a flood plain is very doubtful. We, the public, must know when and that we are a targeted audience. .

The final point is concerning future flood plain studies. The Permit Office is getting 15 to 20 calls per week since January.  I would hope the board of supervisors has learned that their notification attempts for the past study failed to reach the targeted audience. I have learned that FEMA has received some “stimulus” money and with the recent availability of better digital map data another study could begin in Warren County in the next three to six months. This study will be mainly in the county or unincorporated areas. Let’s hope the supervisors will involve the county citizens more than in the past.

The greater purpose of this article was and is a wake up call. Let your supervisor and congressional members know if FEMA has caused you to be collateral damage or an inadvertent inclusion.

Jack Virden is a resident of Warren County. E-mail reaches him at jgvirden@hughes.net.