February, 16, 2009

Documents certifying the height of Southeast Texas properties above sea level may be as worthless as the homes flooded during Hurricane Ike.

Elevation certificates, needed for new construction permits in flood zones and flood insurance applications, are based on decades-old government monuments that some property surveying experts say are unreliable and have been corrupted.

A particular monument used to set the elevations of several LaBelle-area homes was listed with an incorrect elevation, according to a state survey board investigation, and when Hurricane Ike flooded homes in that area, dozens of homeowners were not allowed to rebuild because their houses lay below the 100-year flood plain.

The problem could be solved when double-checked against new technology, such as Global Positioning Satellite data, which is not precise enough for surveys but can offer reassurance by correctly identifying major problems, said Garey Gilley, a surveyor and director of the Texas Spatial Reference Center at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

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