Alexander Urges FEMA to End Harmful ‘Without Levee’ Practice

February 23, 2011

Leads Bipartisan Effort Critical of FEMA's Policy That Ignores Existing Levees, Flood Control Structures

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, supported by a bipartisan effort of an additional 48 congressional members, today urged the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to discontinue the use of “without levees” analysis to determine new Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) in instances where communities would be negatively impacted by the lack of accuracy. “Without levee” modeling methods assume that an existing levee or flood control structure does not exist for purposes of modeling.

Led by Alexander, the group of House lawmakers – including all Louisiana and Mississippi delegations – requested FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate end the controversial practice that writes off levees or flood control structures that need repairs. In a letter, the Members asked Fugate to utilize his administrative authority to instruct FEMA to apply more precise technical modeling methods that take into account the flood protection offered by existing flood control structures that have not been certified by FEMA.

The plea to Fugate expresses support for conveying flood risks to the American public, but states concern with the problems caused by the “without levee” modeling practice.

“We support FEMA’s efforts to maximize taxpayer dollars by choosing simpler, more cost-effective modeling techniques when appropriate. However, in cases where FEMA treats a flood control structure as if it has been completely wiped off of the map, we may be unnecessarily devaluing property and hurting the economies of cities, towns, counties and businesses. This approach is particularly troubling since FEMA has the tools at its disposal to obtain more precise data. Just because a levee is under repair or needs to be re-certified does not mean that it provides no flood protection at all or that its level of protection cannot be sufficiently modeled. Current FEMA modeling techniques allow us to more precisely reflect the level of flood protection of such structures. When American jobs are at risk, FEMA should use the methods readily available to it rather than settle for an all-or-nothing approach, thus shifting the financial burden from the federal government to local governments and their citizens.”

Yesterday, Alexander introduced legislation to ensure the fair treatment of existing levees and flood control structures under the National Flood Insurance Program.

Alexander’s bill, titled the Fair Treatment of Levees Act of 2011, declares that FEMA may not use the assumption that an existing levee or flood control structure does not exist to designate an area as having new flood hazards pursuant to issuance, revision, updating or any other purpose to implement changes in flood insurance maps. An exception will be granted in cases where no affected community notifies FEMA of objections to the Administrator’s hazard modeling processes within 90 days of enactment of this Act.

Alexander says this bill would “force FEMA to take into consideration the level of actual protection provided by an unaccredited structure. This legislation will give everybody involved-Members of Congress, FEMA, and constituents-more time to thoroughly investigate flooding risks and ensure those risks are being accurately assessed.”

FEMA’s remapping program has faced significant opposition in regions with unaccredited flood control structures. FEMA has an all-or-nothing approach to accounting for some levees on the flood maps, meaning that if a particular levee has not been accredited, FEMA will redraw the given flood map as if the levee does not exist at all.

Alexander says he believes, “This practice is controversial, imprecise, and will potentially force countless Americans to unnecessarily purchase costly flood insurance.

“Perhaps most importantly, this practice causes Americans to lose faith in the map modernization process itself, and a healthy, solvent flood insurance program relies on willing cooperation from our citizens and communities. Taxpayers all across the country simply cannot understand how the federal government can make a flood control structure, which they can see with their eyes and touch with their hands, just disappear.”

Both the legislation and letter are the latest endeavors of Alexander’s aggressive campaign to call crucial attention to the levee certification issue that has local and state officials, as well as residents, in a state of distress.

“Moving forward, I will continue to raise awareness about the levee certification issue and its implications for residents, as well as request congressional support.”

The full text of letter the and bill are attached.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, represents the 5th Congressional District and serves on the House Appropriations Committee. Alexander founded and serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Levee Caucus.

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