The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Delta Members of Congress Rightly Oppose FEMA's Ill-Advised Flood Plain Plan

Posted on June 01, 2010 at 02:06 PM

The Delta Grassroots Caucus endorses the bipartisan group in Congress who are opposing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to redraw its Flood Insurance Rate Maps in such a way as to inflict huge and unjustified new flood insurance costs on the Delta region, thus undermining our efforts to attract economic development in the economically distressed region.

Among these Members of Congress are included Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Rep. Marion Berry (D-AR), Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and others who have rightly oppposed FEMA’s utterly unjustified and unfair approach to this vital issue. (We feel sure many other Members in the Delta share this concern so this is certainly not an exhaustive list–notify of others and we will add them to our website.)

Seven Senators and Rep. Marion Berry recently met with FEMA Director Craig Fugate to urge him to give more flexibility to our communities facing severe increases in flood insurance requirements if this harsh policy is carried through. Rep. Berry correctly said that the new flood plain maps will include large sections of land that were not previously considered flood-prone, and the number of people required to buy the insurance will skyrocket.

Sen. Pryor estimated that at least 100,000 Arkansans will have to pay for flood insurance for the first time if the new maps are put into effect. FEMA Director Fugate said at the meeting he would develop a plan to respond to the Members’ concerns, and Sen. Pryor was quoted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on June 1 as saying that Fugate “seemed to be open to working out the details with us.”

Some Members of Congress were pessimistic after the meeting, with Sen. Vitter of Louisiana describing it as “frustrating.” Rep. Berry said the FEMA officials “just fool around and make up stuff.” Sen. Grassley of Iowa said to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter that “We can’t stand around and allow government taking or depriving the use of private property.”

The Delta Caucus urges all our Members to contact their Members of Congress and make sure they are vocal in opposing this plan. This will be one of the main issues we address our annual conference in Washington, DC on Sept. 21-23, 2010. We need to be keeping the pressure on Congress as well as FEMA and the Obama administration every week this entire year.

“The partners of the Delta Caucus have been urging FEMA to be fair and reasonable about the flood insurance issues for a couple of years now, and they haven’t heard a word we have said. It’s time they started listening to the countless voices of our region of eight states and over nine million people,” said Lee Powell, Caucus director.

Harvey Joe Sanner, head of the American Ag Movement in Des Arc, Arkansas, praised the Arkansas Congressional delegation and others in the Delta for their stand, and said this effort would undermine all our efforts to attack our economic problems in the Delta.

PIECEMEAL IMPLEMENTATION IS CYNICAL AND UNFAIR: Everyone in the region needs to know that even if your community has not recently received warnings from FEMA that deadlines are coming soon, this plan will be imposed on you sooner or later. FEMA is presenting the maps on a rolling basis, with Arkansas communities being among the first in the nation to be confronted with the new maps.

Sen. Lincoln rightly pointed out that the legislative efforts that she, Sen. Pryor, Rep. Berry and Sen. Cochran have attempted to pass to head off this draconian effort has been slow to catch on with other Members of Congress because of FEMA’s “piecemeal” way of introducing the new maps, so that it is difficult to get other senators concerned about the issue because “it hasn’t happened to them yet.”

Pryor, Cochran, Berry, Lincoln and others have tried to pass legislation to deal with this. One effort would have created independent arbitration panels to decide on mapping disagreements between the agency and towns, but it failed in the Senate recently. Pryor rightly points out that an independent panel is needed because FEMA has a conflict of interest in deciding disputes aobut an insurance program that the agency itself runs.

Pryor, Lincoln and Berry are also supporting an excellent proposal to give municipalities seven years to address any levee concerns identified by FEMA.

If FEMA were to introduce the flood plain maps across the country to everyone involved, the outcry would be so overwhelming that they would have to either scrap or mitigate the plan, and slow down the process before the federal government rushes in and acts before fully considering all the implications of this unfair plan.

OVER-REACTION TO AFTER-EFFECTS OF HURRICANE KATRINA: Much of this problem stems from an inappropriate reaction to Hurricane Katrina. One consideration is that FEMA was rightfully denounced for their inept response to the flooding after Katrina, and they want to be able to say “I told you so” if there are any other similar disasters in the region. Mayor Barrett Harrison of Blytheville, Arkansas said his community, like many in the Delta, is already protected by the St. Francis levee district, but the new plan totally ignores that reality.

Since many residents already pay dues to the levee districts for flood protection, asking them to buy additional flood insurance imposes, in effect, a double taxation upon them.

FEMA is over-reacting to the aftermath of Katrina, which left its insurance program heavily in debt. Sen. Lincoln was right on target in saying to Alex Daniels of the Democrat-Gazette that “Flood insurance isn’t going to make anyone in Arkansas safer. It’s only going to make the national flood insurance program solvent.”

The maps purport to show the locations in the country that are at risk to a 100-year flood, which has a one percent chance of occurring each year. For people in those areas who purchase or improve land with federally backed loans or who request federal aid after a flood, they must buy flood insurance through FEMA’s flood insurance program.

If cities and counties are alleged to have dangerous areas according to FEMA, in order to take part in the federal insurance program they must pass ordinances outlining what preparations they have developed for emergencies and setting building development standards that limit development.

Mayor Harrison echoed the sentiments of many people in our region when he said that new businesses will not move to the Delta if this plan goes through, because it will make it much more difficult and more expensive to locate in places like Blytheville and countless other communities in our region.

Please keep communicating to the powers that be on this vital issue. Thanks very much. Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347