Alexandria, Pineville, Rapides Parish officials jointly meet to consider levee protection

By Bill Sumrall
The Light

Elected officials from Alexandria, Pineville and Rapides Parish  rallied  in an historic tri-governmental meeting to counter decertification of area levees.

“In the beginning, when we first heard this information, I think it threw a lot of us in shock,” Rapides Parish Police Jury President Richard Billings told more than 50 people gathered for the Wednesday,  Feb. 24 joint sessions of the Alexandria and Pineville city councils and police jurors meeting in the Alexandria City Hall’s council chambers.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are in the process of drawing floodplain maps which local officials say would result in disastrous financial consequences for city and parish residents and businesses.

Since Hurricane Katrina, FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers have revised levee and floodplain guidelines, officials say, which expanded 100-year floodplains but caused loss of levee certification, which would increase flood insurance premiums and adversely affect property development.

“Whether it be on the right-hand side of the levee or the left-hand side of the levee, we’re all in this together,” Billings said.

“If we can’t get this to where it’s accredited, and try to keep the insurance rates down, who would want to come in our levee district and build anything? I don’t think nobody would, because they could not afford to,” Billings said.

As for the police jury, Billings said he commends his colleagues for being willing to step forward and “try to do everything that we can possibly do to ensure the citizens not only of their safety but of (insurance) rating.”

Billings added, “I know in my heart this is a money thing.”

Roy O. Martin III later echoed this view. “My personal belief, as a private citizen, is, I think this is a federally caused situation that should be solved with federally caused dollars,” Martin said, which brought applause from the audience.

Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy emphasized the need to ensure the physical safety provided by the levees as well as the fiscal considerations.

“If there are sand boils and there are issues that are undermining the levees, we need to know where they are and the exact cost, and we need to go fix them right now. We’re willing to do that,” Roy said.

“We’re willing to find the funds and do that right now, but we don’t that to be lost with the politics, if you will, of moving this process as far as the remapping to grab (insurance) premiums instead of thinking about, number one, safety, and then what’s fair and right. So, that’s what this process is about,” Roy said.

During the meeting, the Alexandria City Council passed resolutions and ordinances designed to form a committee to explore what is needed to fund and fix any problems found with the levees.

At one point in the meeting, Alexandria Councilman Chuck Fowler asked how much of Alexandria would be impacted by decertification of the levees, keeping in mind that federal flood insurance is required for mortgage lending.

Alexandria city engineer Michael Wilkinson estimated 95 percent of Alexandria would be impacted.

Mayor Roy said this is the reason he’s asking Alexandria’s City Council to consider at its next regular meeting to devote a small amount of funding toward helping in the joint effort to resolve the decertification issue.

“Our tax base will be destroyed by that action,” Roy said.

Though he didn’t have a percentage of the effect on his city, Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields said some may feel his city can opt out because it is located on higher ground but noted “it’s the overall picture that you actually have to look at.”

“Just think about it, 95 percent of Alexandria is affected. It’s going to affect Pineville and every municipality around us,” Fields said.

“It does not matter who’s in and who’s out. What matters is this region and the effect that it’s going to have economically,” Fields said.

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