Without naming nameless names, I think it’s probably time to clarify some of the absurdity currently being perpetuated by less than a handful of local bloggers.
Let’s get a few things straight:
1. The attorney for our local levee board cannot control and does not dictate FEMA’s or the Army Corps of Engineers’s national standards for levee accreditation or certification.
2. I know it may sound nuanced and “esoteric,” but accreditation and certification mean different things. Attacking someone for understanding the distinction only exposes your own ignorance.
3. The City of Alexandria does not own or control our levees.
4. In order to assist the Red River, Atchafalya, and Bayou Bouef Levee Board, the City entered into agreement in which it would use its own engineering resources to provide for the required federal reporting on levee structures within the City limits. (Apparently, this was treated as a two-year-old breaking news item today.) Believe it or not, engineering services are different than legal services. Crazy, huh?
5. Typically, the owner of the levees is responsible for providing for these reports. In an earnest effort to share taxpayer resources and eliminate duplicative spending, the City Engineer provided an honest and thorough report.
6. Based on the City’s own reporting, alleged deficiencies were identified. If this is some grand conspiracy, then where’s the cover-up?
7. These alleged deficiencies are not the result of negligence on behalf of the City; the allegations are a product of an independent assessment of structures owned and maintained by another governmental agency.
8. Instead of blaming others and pointing fingers, the only way we can resolve this outstanding issue is by working together, in a spirit of shared cooperation and respect. (You say you love Alexandria; prove it.)
I like the New Orleans version of the lyrics:
“Drove my Chevy to the Levee
But the Levee was gone”
I must say that with the amount of flooding the entire Mississippi River system has had in the past 20 years and with the fact that we have not had a single flood in Rapides Parish due to a levee failure that I find FEMA’s thinking to be a bit flawed — something like applying a universal standard to a local situation.
The River is now capable of being fully controlled by the Lock and Dam system which has a very capable control structure in just north of Boyce and just south of Kolin, meaning that for 95% of its route through Rapides Parish its flow can be totally controlled.
As for Bayou Rapides, I don’t even see why it needs Levees because it’s basically a dead body of water that flows between the Cotile Lake dam and the 3rd Street pumping station. There is no free flow of water into or out of the Bayou. And even in the event of an emergency outflow from Cotile, only half the water flows south into Bayou Rapides (and toward Alexandria) with the other half flowing east into Bayou Jean de Jean and eventually into the Red River north of Boyce (that’s the Bayou you cross over heading north on I-49 just before Northwood High School.
I think it’s a definite overreaction of FEMA to move so quickly on the deaccredidation process, but I also think the issue is being blown a bit out of proportion on the local level. Even if all the deficiencies are upheld, the number being listed to rectify them is 3-4 million. It costs more than that to replace a small bridge over a creek on a two lane road and we do that sort of construction several times every year. So why not spend that amount to protect the entire parish?
Finally! A sane, rational, well written article on this subject. I have a ttended several of the levee meetings. How other local bloggers(and I use that term loosely) can make it so convoluted is beyond me.
I have watched the blog battle over the past few weeks and personally have grown tired of the tennis match. I have read each of your points and felt compelled to toss my two cents into cyberspace. While I agree with you on most points, I do find your challengers have made a few excellent points as well.
1. I completely and totally agree with your point as stated here.
2. Again, I agree with this point and also know the difference between accreditation and certification as it relates to this issue. I also know the difference between Levee Board Maintenance and Corps of Engineers Maintenance.
3. I will question this statement. I can actually show you on ownership maps where land, that is an actual levee was transferred to the ownership of the City of Alexandria. I can provide the conveyance and the survey to indicate such. I will agree with the major point made here in that the City does not control the levees.
4. I completely understand the PAL agreements and what the intent of the City’s obligations under the agreement was to be.
5. While I certainly believe the City submitted what it felt was a complete and honest report, I have to question the report based on deficiency item number 1.
6. You state “alleged deficiencies” but the FEMA letter regarding the Alexandria paperwork clearly outlines 4. The first one being the documentation submitted did not use FEMA published Base Flood Elevation to evaluate the system for adequate freeboard. I would have to question why an engineer would not do so when he prepared the accreditation paperwork.
Much has been written about the parking lot so I will skip that portion of the deficiencies. There are two others listed which reference specific pages in the report. Since I do not have a copy of the report, I cannot at this time comment on those issues.
7. I would have to partially agree with you on this point. Since the City’s engineering department is responsible for providing the documentation, the City should accept responsibility for providing information that was not correctly submitted (the first deficiency listed in the FEMA letter). The other items listed would have been under the control of the Levee Board which is the agency one must contact when doing any type of development near any type of levee in this district. That would include a parking lot. With that said, the parking lot appears to be within the city limits and a permit should have also been issued by the City of Alexandria so there may be some partial blame here as well – if the permit was issued by the City without verifying clearance by the Levee Board. I have not pulled any permits so I cannot verify this information which is why the word IF and MAY have been used.
8. I have not been pointing fingers. I am not a nameless blogger. I have attended multiple meetings and have used my own experts to gather information. No one has ever questioned whether I Love Alexandria or not.
I believe at the joint meeting of the 3 legislative bodies for our areas a statement was made that we need to work together to find solutions. If this means all bodies need to revise their permitting process as it relates to develop near levees, let’s get some proposals out there, review them and move forward. If this means we need to collectively work with municipalities across the country through the various national associations our legislative bodies belong to in order to have the Corps of Engineers properly funded through a jobs bill to fund the recommended maintenance and repairs and create jobs, let’s move forward. If this means seeking surplus State budgetary dollars to do the work for the entire Red River System like LaFourche Parish has, let’s move forward. Finally, if this means learning from these past “deficiencies” in order to prevent a crisis in future years to come (because I seriously doubt this will be the last year we go through accreditation) then let’s move forward.
Thank you for your comments, Rhonda. I am tired of the “tennis match” too, but as long as people publicly peddle misinformation, I think the facts need to be corrected.
Re: #7, the first deficiency had to do with complying with certain standards on reporting. I would submit that, regardless of the merits of this claim (and I’m not sure the specifics of these standards), it definitely appears as if FEMA was prepared to de-certify anyway. As you know, they waited until after the PAL expired to inform RRABB of these deficiencies. Remember, the City does not have jurisdiction or authority over accreditation or certification.
But here’s something no one has mentioned, and I think it is important:
FEMA re-certified our levees in November 2005. This certification was supposed to last ten years, though FEMA reserved the right to change their minds at any time.
The parking lot issue, in my opinion, seems like a reach by FEMA, but I imagine they will have to clarify their position in the near-future– considering there seems to be so much confusion around it.
And re: #8: Don’t worry; I don’t believe you are pointing fingers, and I respect the fact that you are putting your name behind your words. I also respect your understanding of these issues and your willingness to get to the heart of the matter, instead of politicizing it.
I don’t have proof of the re-accreditation by FEMA in 2005 or any re-certification but I can tell you they prepared preliminary flood maps dated July 31, 2007 which indicate the governing authorities over the levee systems have entered into a PAL agreement. These maps show the levees as they exist on the current maps, providing protection from a 1% flood event. The important thing about these maps – there are areas today which are not in a zone designated as being in a hazard area that will be regardless of the levee outcome. This is something no one is discussing.
The City most definitely has proof of the re-accreditation/re-certification. I have read and reviewed the letters.
Can you expand on your second point?
When the City and RABB entered into the PAl agreements FEMA was already preparing preliminary revisions of the FIRMs. They released a set for the parish, as I am certain they did for every area of the country subject to map revision. The ones for Rapides are dated July 31, 2007 and clearly marked PRELIMINARY.
When you compare a firm that is in current use today, one a citizen, insurer, developer, planner or lender would use to determine if a property needed to be covered by flood insurance you might find the property would not be in a designated flood area and therefore, would not be required to have flood insurance. However, in some instances, if you look at that same address on the proposed maps, you will find that same property WOULD be in a designated area requiring flood insurance.
The intent of publishing the PRELIMINARY firms as I understand is to provide information on what the maps would look like if all the current levees are accredited. The user notes state the levees shown on the maps are subject to accreditation and the governing authorities are under a PAL for a period of time for the review.
One more question (again not pointing fingers, just for clarification) –
When the City offered its engineering department services was it in essence performing the same service the Corps of Engineers or a private engineering firm could offer? We know RABB contracted with Corps for the certification on the Red River Levees which makes perfect sense. They have the most knowledge of what has occurred over time with those levees. Was the City then acting as the entity to “certify” the multitude of levees within the City for RABB?
If this is the case, then it seems FEMA has received the certification documents, reviewed them and had issues with the document. This is their list of deficiencies and their stated cause for de-accreditation. Again, IF this is the case, somewhere we should be able to get a list of what the problems are (like the mileage numbers and sand boil locations we have received on the Red River levees) and an estimate to correct the problems in order to have these levees accredited. I believe this is what people are looking for – a list of what has to be fixed.
The engineer who stamped the certification paperwork should have noted the areas not in compliance since FEMA has already stated they are not engineers. Let’s marshal whatever resources necessary and begin to eat this “apple” one bite at a time to resolve this problem as well. The levees inside the City may have a larger impact on citizens than what most people understand.