FEMA “Floodways” Land Grabs

The Great FEMA Land Rush

September 24, 2010

Zachary, La. – Not since the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 has there been such a massive grab of land. Homeowners of this small Louisiana city probably never heard of “Floodways”, but by the time they find out exactly what it means for their property, it may just be too late to do anything about it. Inside Louisiana News has been investigating “Floodways” and found that this is not just a problem in Zachary, but nationwide as well.

According to FEMA’s website, a “Floodway” is described as follows:

A “Regulatory Floodway” means the channel of a river or other watercourse and the adjacent land areas that must be reserved in order to discharge the base flood without cumulatively increasing the water surface elevation more than a designated height. Communities must regulate development in these floodways to ensure that there are no increases in upstream flood elevations. For streams and other watercourses where FEMA has provided Base Flood Elevations (BFEs), but no floodway has been designated, the community must review floodplain development on a case-by-case basis to ensure that increases in water surface elevations do not occur, or identify the need to adopt a floodway if adequate information is available.

Just SouthEast of Zachary, Livingston Parish President Mike Grimmer simply told FEMA “no” when FEMA came to him with their plans of expanding “Floodways”. Zachary residents were not as fortunate when Mayor Henry Martinez agreed with FEMA.

FEMA has been moving around the nation, trying to expand “Floodways” to be inclusive of land that is in 200 year flood zones. While property owners still get to “own” the property and can still “build” on the property, the new zoning so significantly restricts new construction in flood zones that building on the property no longer remains economically viable.

The Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 had a stipulation to land claims, that you had to improve the land, but in the Great FEMA Land Rush, ensuring that improvements do not occur on the property seems to be the end goal. If your property has been placed into a “Floodway”, you can no longer do anything that may “restrict the flow of water”. This includes building a wall, a fence, or even planting a tree. Even outside of these tough economic times, try selling property to somebody when they can’t do anything with it.

When the Louisiana Attorney General ruled that property owners were damaged, this meant that property owners throughout Zachary who had their homes placed into a “Floodway” by Mayor Henry Martinez at FEMA’s suggestion, the City of Zachary is liable to the home owners for the property value lost. Mayor Martinez hid behind an old Louisiana law that makes it legal for the City of Zachary to not pay for their debts, a familiar stance for the bankrupted Mayor.

Inside Louisiana News will continue to investigate the strict and complicated guidelines of “Floodways” and bring our readers our latest findings.

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