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Long-time property owners suddenly find themselves in FEMA regulatory floodway

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GONZALES - Flood map changes are coming to Ascension Parish and it was a shock to dozens of people who are being told their properties will now be in a FEMA regulatory floodway.

Tuesday morning, 2 On Your Side met with property owners along S. Hodgeson Road in Gonzales. They say there's no reason for these changes and feel like someone dropped the ball.

"It was sprung on us all of the sudden," said Mike Gautreau.

Many of the property owners affected have been living along S. Hodgeson near Bayou Conway for decades. The area has been family-owned and developed for about 200 years. Gautreau says the property he lives on has been part of his family since he was a teenager and can't understand why the maps are being changed to show that he's living in a floodway.

"I never would have thought it would affect us to this degree," he said. "This new classification floodway is a lot different than a flood zone and it's completely changed how our property will be used."

A floodway is an area where water is expected to flow and development is often restricted. Dozens of residents learned about this change in the last week and a half, many by word of mouth. Some say they received a letter from the parish, but by the time it was received there was nothing that could be done.

"We lost our right to appeal on March 6. They sent the letter out after that," said property owner Chasity Faul.

Faul can attest, they didn't flood in 1983 and they didn't flood in 2016.

"Nothing happened here we had no water on our land," she said.

It's why she and her husband built their house two years ago on 10 acres of land. It's their forever home. Yet they're in a floodway and their neighbor, whose home is built lower than their slab, is not in a floodway.

"I'm most concerned about the value of my property going down," she said.

The letter sent out to the residents was to notify occupants about a proposed change in the FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) that would affect the flood insurance of residences. It also said, in 2017, Ascension Parish "started the process of developing a more accurate depiction of flood zones in the Bayou Conway flood basin. At the conclusion of this study, the Parish submitted recommended FIRM revisions to FEMA in July 2018. In December 2018, the Parish of Ascension received notification of preliminary approval by FEMA of the Letter of Map Revision (LOMR) revising flood zone areas within this basin. If no sound objections are made to this LOMR, the revisions will become effective May 15, 2019."

The letter went on to say that while some 1,200 addresses were moved from Zone AE to Zone X, about 340 properties will be changed from Zone X to Zone AE, which is considered to be a flood zone. There are also "several" properties that will be classified in a floodway.

FEMA tells 2 On Your Side that an engineer hired by Ascension Parish performed the map study. Parish Councilman Bill Dawson says a notice was printed in a local paper in November and December alerting residents about the change and providing a deadline to appeal, but it doesn't appear Faul nor Gautreau read that paper. 

"If we had known ahead of time during the appeal process it would have been a lot different," said Faul.

It makes them wonder why they weren't told in person about the floodway determination when they've never flooded before and why the parish mailed the letter after the appeals process was over.

Gautreau says if the parish is concerned about flooding issues because of development in the area, they should use funds to address drainage instead of forcing the problem onto others.

"The drainage needs to be corrected before all this new building takes place in our area," he said. "Our parish is trying to grow too quick without developing the infrastructure, the drainage needs to be taken care of."

The parish told 2 On Your Side Tuesday morning it was not yet ready to comment about the new maps and the floodway. Wednesday, it plans to meet with FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, state floodplain managers, and representatives of Louisiana's congressional delegation to address concerns of the property owners. Councilman Dawson says the parish plans to appeal the deadline to allow for a proper commenting period and opportunity to appeal the change.

FEMA has told 2 On Your Side multiple times the appeals process has expired and the new maps will go into effect on May 15, 2019.

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