State, advocates worry about elevation options

November 8, 2007

State officials, pleased with a federal plan that could reimburse hurricane-affected residents who have raised their homes, worry the plan will create a bureaucratic maze, and confusion.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been taking public comment on a plan to let home - and business owners rebuilding from the 2005 hurricanes receive federal aid to raise the buildings or to take other steps meant to make the structures safer from future storms.

The idea was to change rules that threatened to block as many as an estimated 29,000 residents who have started, or finished, rebuilding higher from receiving expected federal aid to help offset the cost.

Under state rules, hurricane-affected homeowners in the 100-year flood zone may be eligible to receive up to $30,000 each to raise their properties.  But FEMA had said that rules and regulations it works under required reviews, including environmental, cost-benefit and engineering analyses, to ensure properties that get money should.  The agency had said that once work starts, it's hard to go back and do those reviews.

Last month, however, FEMA officials said they would apply a "limited exception" to rules for homeowners who've begun work.  It's still not clear how many of those homeowners might qualify for aid.

The shift could free up 1.1 billion dollars in funds after FEMA reviews public comment and advises the state on how to implement the policy.

But the state worries it could end up with separate programs -- for those who've begun elevation work and those who haven't -- that simply confuse residents.