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Eastern New Orleans gets levees approved by FEMA

Levee officials say the Federal Emergency Management Agency has certified non-federal levees in New Orleans East, a step that should help spur economic development in a part of the city lagging in its comeback from Hurricane Katrina.

FEMA officials certified two levee segments that fall inside the larger flood protection system built by the Army Corps of Engineers for New Orleans East. The agency was reviewing whether the levees would handle flooding that might happen inside the federal system from heavy rains.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East announced FEMA's accreditation on Tuesday.

The certification will help keep flood insurance rates from spiking in the area.

Sherman Copelin, the president New Orleans East Business Association, said Wednesday that the agency's move would help entice businesses into the area.

New Orleans East is seeing its population and businesses make a comeback, but it has been slow, Copelin said. He said national developers are looking at eastern New Orleans as a place for investment.

The area was flooded badly during Katrina 10 years ago. The area lies close to a series of lakes and marsh on the edge of New Orleans and for this reason is viewed as vulnerable to storm surge from major hurricanes.

Stephen Estopinal, the president of the flood protection authority, said two other non-federal levee segments affecting St. Bernard Parish and the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans are under review now for certification.

"We want to stabilize flood insurance rates there, as well," Estopinal said.

He said it was vital for an area's levees to be certified by FEMA as safe and reliable.

The flood authority said that without certification, residents in New Orleans East faced hefty increases of up to $6,000 more a year in flood insurance costs. Also, without certification the area faced seeing its base flood elevation level increase by up to 2 feet, levee officials said.

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