Officials Say Maps of Flood Plains Are Late

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New Orleans Director of Safety and Permits Mike Centineo is also the flood plain manager for the city. And he says he has been impatient to receive the "flood recovery guidance" information and flood plain maps of his parishes from FEMA.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

To find out more about what this means for New Orleans homeowners, we turned to Mike Centineo. He oversees the city's permitting for rebuilding, and he's also the city's flood plain manager. Mike Centineo lost his own home in the Lakeview section of New Orleans. He now lives in a FEMA trailer hooked up in his front yard. Mr. Centineo joins us now from his office in New Orleans. And, Mr. Centineo, what are we to make of these FEMA flood plain maps? You, like many people, have just got an early look at them. What's your first interpretation?

Mr. MIKE CENTINEO (Director of safety and permits, New Orleans): Well, my first interpretation is that the maps are requiring everyone in the levee areas of the city to build three feet above the adjacent grade. And what that doesn't take into effect is that some of the city, even under the worst-case scenario, didn't flood, because the ground is high and/or in zones that, you know, are out of the flood plain. So those areas would be impacted more adversely than other areas. For the most part, most property is already built 18 inches to several feet above the adjacent grade from our existing ordinances. So in the worst-case scenario, somebody may have to elevate a foot and a half higher.

NORRIS: You know, that additional foot and a half, though, if you're saying they're already required to be a foot and a half off the ground, and whether it's a foot and a half or actually three feet, if you've ever been to New Orleans and seen that high water mark, which in many cases is up just below the roof line, you wonder why three feet? How did they come to that number?

Mr. CENTINEO: Well, from what I understand, and you're absolutely correct, because, you know, my existing home is already about four feet above grade, and this really doesn't affect me. But I had five feet of water in my house even though I'm four feet above grade. So that goes with your question, is, you know, what difference would this really make? And the reason why is this is all based on recertification of the levees by the U.S. Corps of Engineers. And if that's the case, and they can get certified, then these elevations probably are reasonable.

NORRIS: So if you have to elevate the home three feet above the local grade, what does that entail? How do you jack up a house by three feet?

Mr. CENTINEO: Well, we have a lot of construction here that are houses that are already elevated a few feet off the ground. They're built on what we call piers, or cinder blocks. Those are easily elevated. The ones that it really affects the most are slab on grade homes. By slab on grade, we mean where you actually pour the slab against the ground itself and just walk on from there. And those are not easily elevated. It's a very expensive proposition.

NORRIS: So to understand that, if you've got a slab on grade home, is it easier to just demolish the home and start over? I mean, is it financially feasible to actually go in and lift that home up, if it's not built on cinder blocks?

Mr. CENTINEO: You know, based on the age of some of the houses that are out there, it really is more feasible to tear them down and start over. On average, a slab house will cost anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 to elevate. And it would make more sense to put that money into something new than to elevate an existing structure and still have to renovate it.

NORRIS: A lot of people were holding off on making key decisions until they actually saw these flood maps. Do you think that the people will now make key decisions to return to the city or not?

Mr. CENTINEO: Yeah, I do. You know, even though we're talking about three feet above adjacent grade, I don't think it's that bad of a scenario that would prohibit construction. I think that this is really a doable elevation for most areas, and I do think that it's affordable and we will have reconstruction.

NORRIS: Mr. Centineo, there have been a lot of concerns about the population of New Orleans, also about the size of the city, what the city might look like, how much area it'll actually cover. Under this plan, it looks to be a case where people can rebuild anywhere in the city. So does this suggest that the footprint of the city won't change, as some have suggested?

Mr. CENTINEO: You know, you're correct. It suggests that you can build everywhere in a city, and that FEMA feels fairly confident from what they're hearing from the Corps that the city will be reasonably protected to that 100-year flood. So I think the footprint will remain the same, but the city will be smaller for some time, until the population comes back through re-growth and through new business.

NORRIS: Mike Centineo is the director of safety and permits for the city of New Orleans. He's also the city's flood plain manager. Mr. Centineo, thanks for talking to us.

Mr. CENTINEO: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

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