Buyouts offered to residents of continually flooded neighborhood

Marlisa Harding

Residents of Lake Charles’ Greinwich Terrace have new options for future flood mitigation measures by way of a $30 million voluntary, residential buyout program offered through the state. Part of the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, the buyout is one of the state’s long-term resilience objectives for communities—a saving grace for the neighborhood that has endured three floods within the last four years.

“This week’s floods are a painful reminder of the devastation water continues to inflict on our state— something the people of Southwest Louisiana know all to well— and how urgent it is that we continue to create more resilient, sustainable communities,” Gov. John Bel Edwards, said in a statement.

This week’s announcement is a collaborative effort between the state and local authorities within the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury. Jennifer Cobian, CPPJ assistant director of planning and development, said Greinwich Terrace was identified in March for fitting the qualifications of the CDBG-MIT residential mitigation program, the $1.2 billion federal program that funds the buyout.

“These funds are required to be spent on flood mitigation measures across the state, including planning, data collection, modeling, large-scale drainage improvements and residential mitigation,” she said.

A combination of factors have led to Greinwich Terrace’s flooding woes, the most prominent being the neighborhood’s low elevation compared to surrounding areas.

“Being the low area in the watershed means surrounding areas drain towards the neighborhood. During major rain events and especially flash flood events, the water quickly backs up into the area,” she said.

An engineering firm ran multiple drainage improvement models in an attempt to identify potential improvements, but no models were able to reduce water levels enough to keep flood waters from entering homes during significant rain events, she added.

Once the voluntary buyouts are complete, structures will be demolished including concrete, returning the land back to its natural state. “Which is a benefit, a partial benefit, because we’re going to be removing impervious surfaces. It will allow more natural drainage to occur during rain events, more places for the water to be soaked.”

A return to open space is one of the requirements of the program, Cobian said, and will ultimately reduce the flood risk for homes not purchased through the program because of the new, increased capacity of the Kayouche Coulee.

“They want to take not just the citizens out of the flood area but they want to also make sure that land then becomes beneficial to the surrounding areas,” she said.

The exact boundaries of eligibility within the neighborhood are still being determined, Cobian said, but getting the news out as soon as possible was necessary.

“Part of that is because they want residents, especially those without flood insurance, to know that there is an option. Before they spend their own money mitigating or repairing their home after this event, if they are on the fence and saying ‘I wish someone could just come buy me out,’ we want them to know there is that option. We don’t want them to spend money fixing up their home and then announce it several weeks later.”

As part of the the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development parameters for the funding, residents who choose to participate in the buyout will be offered a fair price for their home, Cobian said.

“It has to meet these special federal requirements— one being this relocation and acquisition policy which states that if for any reason the federal government purchases or buys out a citizens’ property, that citizen has to be able to obtain a similar property. They’ve got to be able to receive enough funding to purchase elsewhere.”

Cobian said she believes this means the state will calculate how much it will cost for a resident to buy a similar house of similar size outside of a high flood risk area or in a low flood risk area. “At any rate, we feel like it’s a still a good opportunity for the residents because, regardless, they will be offered more than today’s actual market value.”

Michael Olivier has owned his home in Greinwich Terrace for four years but grew up in the neighborhood for most of his life. “Flooding has never been an issue — never been a thought in our mind. It’s just in the recent years with Hurricane Harvey.”

After taking on water in Hurricanes Harvey and Delta and then again on May 17, the option of a buyout seems like a clear solution, Olivier said.

“I personally think I would take the buyout. That would be best for me and my family,” he said.

He’s been walking door to door this week to notify neighbors of the new option. “If I see someone working out in the yard, I’ll inform them. A lot of neighbors are elderly and a lot of it is rental property. Those people aren’t informed unless someone takes the time to tell them. And not just social media. You have to inform them personally.”

Olivier said he’s gotten a mixed response from neighbors regarding the news.

“Some people, they’ve been here forever. They don’t want to go. They’re real elderly. They’re tired. They’ve been through the hurricanes, the freeze, so right now it’s an emotional time. And then some people get excited about it,” he said.

Letting renters know the news has been a special priority to him, he added. “The owner may be selling the house so it’s best to inform them now. Break the news to them now. At the end of the day we’re in charge of our future. We make our own decision.”

While taking advantage of the buyout is the option Olivier plans to take, ensuring everyone is offered a fair price is on his mind.

“That was alarming to me … finding something in this price range is going to be rough. This was home. But I feel confident I’ll be able to make a way for my family.”

He’s also concerned for the future of residents if they choose not to take the buyout. “Back here, you didn’t have to have flood insurance. Well now, nine times out of 10, it’ll become a flood zone and many people are on a fixed income.”

He’s worried the potential change may force residents who were “just making it” to choose between flood insurance and essentials like prescriptions.

Personally, however, armed with flood insurance this time around, Olivier said he feels thankful that help may finally be on the way for the neighborhood.

“We are grateful something is being done,” he said. “We knew eventually something had to happen and we’re happy it finally got done.”

Greinwich Terrace residents should contact the Louisiana Watershed Initiative, 866-735-2001, for more information about the buyout.

Cobian added that CPPJ routinely applies for and manages FEMA flood mitigation grants for residents across the parish. If a home has flooded multiples times, they should call 721-3600 or email mitigationgrants@calcasieuparish. gov for more information related to FEMA flood mitigation funding.

””

Residents in the Greinwich Terrace neighborhood have been hit with multiple floods. The most recent of which came this past week.

Special to the American Press

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