Wednesday, January 20, 2010
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Kavanaugh Breazeale said yesterday that the Corps will not make the decision to either certify or de-certify local levees that protect the city of Jackson from a Pearl River flood.
"The Corps evaluates the levees. They inspect them, but certification comes from FEMA. All we do is look at them and give them an evaluation, and they certify them," Breazeale said, responding to a blog post by Downtown Jackson Partner President Ben Allen that the Corps was potentially reneging on an agreement to delay the de-certification process.
Allen questioned if the Corps would be de-certifying local levees, despite a decision from the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District approving levee upgrades. "What we understand, is the USACE de-certified many levees across the country, effective February 28th. ... This will mean that no property within these areas will be able to attain federal flood insurance," Allen wrote Monday.
FEMA notified the city of Jackson in 2007 that it would be modernizing flood maps around the city of Jackson. If FEMA does not certify the levees, the new flood map will reflect the inundation of the massive Pearl River flood of 1979. The change would place into the flood zones many houses that had never flooded prior to the 1979 flood, and raise the price of home insurance of affected homes, or possibly prevent home coverage in some locations.
The city asked the Corps to inspect the levees in an effort to facilitate a good decision. The agency will issue an analysis of the levees next month, which will affect FEMA's decision to either certify or de-certify the levees.
Allen said the Corps has been decertifying levees across the country, but posited that the Corps used the potential de-certification as a tool to push the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District into supporting a Corps-endorsed plan to expand the levees over a more expensive lake plan that was more conducive to local development.
"What is odd, is this is the tool used by the Corps (threatening to de-certify the local levee system unless the Levee Board approved the Levee Plan submitted by the USACE), to 'force' approval of the Levee Plan by the current Levee Board just a few days ago. They received the vote they asked for, but followed this 'de-certification' process anyway, if what we are hearing is true," Allen wrote.
Breazeale said the Corps issued no promise to certify levees if the Levee Board voted to approve levees, although information from the 2009 Pearl River Watershed Study reveals that any decision by FEMA to either de-certify or certify the levees "can be updated due to a change in conditions."
Corps Chief of Project Management Doug Kamien told the board at a meeting at Corps headquarters in Vicksburg in September that a joint endeavor by the Corps and the Levee Board to upgrade and expand the levees could represent an "update," but Breazeale said Kamien did not have the authority to promise a favorable report to FEMA with the promise of a levee upgrade.
"Kamien said he doesn't have the power to do that," Breazeale said.
Levee Board member Mark Scarborough, the mayor of Richland, said a levee certification would impact municipalities, but said that he did not believe the area was doomed to de-certification within the next few months.
"I don't think we'll be looking at that, although we might have to do some upgrades to the levees," Scarborough said. "We won't know for sure until we get the information from our engineers and the Corps. We'll wait to see what the engineer recommends at our February meeting."
Levee Board engineer Allan Scott, with Engineering Service of Richland, could not immediately be reached for comment.