By Caroline Grueskin

The state program assisting victims of the 2016 floods is offering buyouts to people living in especially hazardous areas.

Officials with Restore Louisiana announced Monday that homeowners residing in floodways can receive up to $200,000 in buyout money, if they are willing to move out of their disaster-prone homes.

Floodways are areas where water would be expected to flow -- not just fill -- during a 100-year flood, said Pat Forbes, director of the state Office of Community Development. Floodways are specially designated on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood insurance rate maps.

Forbes said in an interview that providing buyouts to people in floodways helps move people out of risky areas and improves water flow during a flood.

"Not only do we get that family into a safer home, but by removing that structure from the floodplain, we have also removed potential debris in the flood," Forbes said.

People living in these areas have until now been ineligible for help from the $1.3 billion Restore Louisiana homeowner assistance program, because federal dollars cannot be used to rehabilitate homes located within floodways, Forbes said.

Only those people who have already applied to the Restore Louisiana program are eligible to be considered for this funding.

Officials have identified and are contacting about 450 homeowners who meet the requirements, but it is not clear how many people might take part.

"There will certainly be some folks who don't want to leave their homes," Forbes said.

The program is projected to cost $45 million.

The Restore Louisiana program will pay for homes in the floodway that sustained major or severe damage during the March or August 2016 floods and are in any of the 51 disaster-declared parishes. Since floodway homes can have depressed values, the program is also offering extra funds to help homeowners purchase new homes in less-risky areas.

"Some of these properties may not be worth very much, because they are in a floodway, and flood insurance is so expensive," Forbes said. "We can look at the average cost of buying a house (in the area) they live in and provide that much."

Homes purchased through the program will be demolished and turned into green space.

Unlike FEMA's hazard mitigation grant program, which also provides buyouts, there will be no match required from the homeowner.

Part of this new phase of the Restore Louisiana program will involve helping people who live in the especially flood-prone subdivisions of Pecan Acres in Pointe Coupee Parish and Silverleaf in Ascension Parish.

Restore Louisiana is funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As of Nov. 23, the program had offered $523 million to 15,158 homeowners across Louisiana, according to a recent Restore Louisiana disbursement report.

(c)2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.