Tens of thousands of homeowners and home buyers in the metro area may have to wait at least two more years before new flood elevation maps take effect.
In Jefferson Parish, officials estimate updated flood maps would likely be available by the end of 2016. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is modifying maps to be more accurate. Michelle Gonzalez, the director of flood plain management in Jefferson Parish, says FEMA should not shoulder all the blame for the delay.
Gonzalez said the parish provided FEMA information in the form of comments and appeals to more accurately modify the flood maps. Gonzalez said that contributes to the 2016 timeline for the new flood maps, which are crucial in setting rates and premiums for flood insurance.
"So that plays into this time frame because those comments and appeals have to be resolved, FEMA reviews those, the parish then submits additional data so correct flood profiles can be produced. That all takes time. We don't like it, but it's part of the bureaucracy," said Gonzalez.
Understanding the contents of the maps can be confusing. The recent developments to prevent potential sky high flood insurance rates connected to the Biggert-Waters Act were successful, but there's little certainty on what future premiums will look like without accurate flood maps.
"A lot of insurance agents aren't even able to interpret the flood maps," said Kelli Wright, a realtor in New Orleans.
Wright said the market in New Orleans is very hot right now. The lack of new definitive flood maps, though, can have a chilling effect.
"If you have a $2,000 house and a $10,000 a year flood insurance policy it's no longer an affordable house and the seller can't sell it," said Wright.
"There are thousands of homeowners that would benefit from the maps being effective, but unfortunately they have to wait," said Michelle Gonzalez.
Until there the updated maps are issued, Jefferson Parish will have to rely on flood maps dating back to 1995. Those maps don't reflect upgrades to flood protection such as pump stations and stronger flood walls made to the parish since Hurricane Katrina. While the parish and much of the Metro region waits on updated flood maps, Gonzalez said developments and construction projects may also have to wait to build accordingly.
"That can definitely delay subdivisions or houses or things being built in the future," said Gonzalez.
At a recent US Senate committee hearing, Senator Mary Landrieu asked FEMA and flood experts how many counties in the country had accurate flood maps, the response:
"We as a nation honestly don't know," said Chad Berginnis, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers.
For those waiting on new flood maps, it's a response that likely doesn't elicit much confidence in the promise of new maps by the end of 2016.