Flood victims looking to rebuild may be facing more hurdles than they expected, thanks to new floodplain maps and federal, state and county regulations.
The Washington County Board listened to many Missouri River flood victims express their opinions on rebuilding regulations at a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 25. Residents of the Cottonwood Marina, Lemley’s Cabins and the DeSoto trailer park spoke out on rules that may hinder them from rebuilding.
According to county planning and zoning administrator Doug Cook, FEMA, the state of Nebraska and Washington County regulations all state that individuals who live in the floodway cannot rebuild their property if it is more than 50 percent damaged.
The floodway are areas next to the river itself, and cannot be built upon unless they have been grandfathered in. Lemley’s and DeSoto are considered to be in the floodway, and have been grandfathered in.
However, unless property in those areas is less than 50 percent damaged, it cannot be rebuilt because of the regulations. New property cannot be grandfathered in.
Debby Taylor, a former resident of Lemley’s, protested the percentage required for rebuilding.
“My house is only worth $5,000, and $2,500 wouldn’t even cover the electrical,” she told the board. “Who can tell me it’s not salvageable?”
Supervisor Kent Clausen, who represents the residents east of Fort Calhoun, sympathized with Taylor and many others. However, he and the board wrestled with the decision of who would make the call on the amount of damage incurred by flood-damaged properties.
County assessor Steve Mencke was considered, as his office handles property assessment values. Mencke, however, said assessing property damage was different from assessing value, and declined.
FEMA, which has trained specialists to assess substantial damages from natural disasters, was also considered, but ultimately rejected. Supervisor Jerry Kruse expressed concerns that FEMA workers wouldn’t be objective and would assess damages higher.
Ultimately, the board voted to approve a team of volunteers from the planning office and the county’s post-flood committee to learn the FEMA Substantial Damages Estimator software. Cook said FEMA workers will be available Monday, Oct. 31, to train the volunteers.
For Cottonwood Marina residents, rebuilding has also been complicated by the implementation of new floodplain maps that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. The new maps put Cottonwood in the floodway; it was previously located in the 100-year flood fringe, which required all property to be elevated by one foot.
If residents of Cottonwood want to rebuild or build anew, they must obtain a building permit before Jan. 1, Cook said. New building permits cannot be issued in Cottonwood after Jan. 1 because of the new floodway designation.
“If they want to build on or add on, they must do it now or by Jan. 1,” Cook said. “Cottonwood is majorly impacted by the new maps.”
The building permit does not require construction to be completed by Jan. 1. Construction must be started within six months of the permit’s issue, and the project completed within two years.
The county board briefly considered pulling out of the National Flood Insurance program, which would allow residents to build wherever they want, but doing so would prevent homeowners countywide from obtaining flood insurance, and could prevent the county from receiving federal aid.