Suit Over Flood Maps Is Premature, Judge Rules

     SHREVEPORT, La. (CN) – It’s too early for residents along the rising Red River to sue the Federal Emergency Management Agency over levee declassification and flood maps.




     In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Maurice Hicks, Jr., said the cities of Alexandria and Pineville should refile their complaint at a later date.
     The cities are concerned about the flood maps that FEMA plans to issue in March. The maps will make it appear that there are no levees to protect against flooding on the Red River, according to court documents. The digital maps meant to forecast water levels during a projected 100-year flood will show the majority of land around Alexandria and Pineville as being underwater.
     After considering base-flood elevation on digital flood insurance rate maps, FEMA on Dec. 30, 2009, issued a “notification of de-accreditation of Red River Levees (north and south banks).”
     The decision concluded that the river levees would no longer be shown as providing protection against flooding. It further said: “Until certification documents are received, the levees will be de-accredited and the area currently shown as protected by the Red River Levees … will be classified as a special flood hazard area.”
     Judge Hicks ruled that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit, which was filed in December, was brought prematurely because FEMA has not yet completed the administrative process of issuing preliminary flood plain maps. The maps will be issued in March and public input will come later in the year.
     “However, the court makes clear that nothing in this ruling prevents plaintiffs from reurging their complaint after a ‘final determination,'” the judge wrote.
     The administrative review process under the National Flood Insurance Act “is limited to challenges based on allegations that FEMA’s flood elevation determinations are scientifically or technically incorrect,” the ruling states.
     Noting a 2010 ruling from the 8th Circuit, Judge Hicks said FEMA’s decision to accredit or de-accredit a levee system becomes a type of flood elevation determination that could be subject to judicial review after final agency decision.

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