ST. PE: Pascagoula has a FEMA problem
Submitted by Jerry St. Pe
Negative consequences on housing in Pascagoula is a direct result of misguided federal flood policies.
Pascagoula has the strongest industrial base in Mississippi. It’s a hard-earned and enviable economic development position.
Meanwhile, Pascagoula has a FEMA problem; a government-inflicted wound undermining the community.
It’s a challenging dichotomy of issues.
On the one hand, this area is the “Silicon Valley of shipbuilding,” as Bob Merchant, CEO of Halter Marine, recently said. He’s right! Our people build some of the most important ships in the world.
Plus, we are home to one of the largest refineries in the world and can boast a richly diversified economy that includes a great many advanced manufacturing companies.
Yet, while this industrial base is the envy of any Chamber of Commerce, the federal government overreach into who can and who can’t repair their homes shouldn’t happen in a free country.
Following Katrina, FEMA helped the Coast recover. We appreciate that, but FEMA policies have gone awry.
The trouble started when FEMA redrew the flood maps in 2008 and based them on Katrina. It was a storm of epic proportions – arguably a 500-year storm, but FEMA made Katrina the standard.
Pascagoula went from having 15-20 percent of the town in the flood zone to over 90 percent. Most of the neighborhoods in Pascagoula now in the “flood zone” have only flooded one time in recorded history.
Suddenly, houses had to be raised to meet FEMA regulations. This is expensive and not practical for many older Pascagoula neighborhoods. Flood insurance rates skyrocketed. Living in modest homes became expensive.
Another problem is FEMA’s 50 percent rule, which limits property owners who don’t elevate their homes to spending 50 percent of the property value fixing or maintaining the property in a 10-year period.
Let’s assume a homeowner spent $25,000 on repairs to their $80,000 house. If they have another problem, FEMA rules won’t allow them to spend more than $15,000 to repair their home, even if they have the money.
So, what happens is people don’t repair their homes. The homes become unlivable. This is steadily happening in Pascagoula. Houses are condemned, blight grows, and we lose working class neighborhoods. Workers lose their family homes.
A staggering 90 percent of property values in Pascagoula have declined or remained the same since FEMA redrew the maps. Many homes are now valued at less than $100,000. So, property owners have a smaller limit to fix their properties due to declining values while the cost of labor and materials have risen.
These various negative consequences on housing in Pascagoula is a direct result of misguided federal flood policies.
Ingalls, Chevron, Mississippi Power, Singing River Hospital, Halter Marine and local businesses need their workers nearby and not in another state.
The State is losing hundreds of millions of dollars. Pascagoula and Jackson County are losing millions. Schools are losing students. Churches are losing members. Non-profits are losing volunteers. The town is losing houses and people.
This isn’t just affecting Pascagoula, Jackson County and even Mississippi. It’s bigger than that.
The U.S. depends on the unique work products of Pascagoula for our military and overall economy.
This FEMA flood policy is a cancer that is spreading. It must be addressed.
That’s why we started our campaign to fight for our people and their homes and businesses. Please visit www.SOSpascagoula.com to learn more about our effort and how you can help.
We don’t want a hand-out; we only want fairness and an opportunity to thrive.
Pascagoulans are tough, hard-working people. We won’t rest until Washington gives our people the freedom to take care of their homes like people in every other town in America.
Submitted by Jerry St. Pe. He is the former President of Ingalls Shipbuilding and resides in Pascagoula.