Wednesday, September 24, 2014

FEMA threatens to withhold disaster monies if county does not approve flood maps

J-E News Editor
In February Webster County became only the second county in the state of Kentucky to reject updated Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) flood maps, following the lead of Lyon County Fiscal Court and Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White. On Monday those maps were up for discussion again.

Last week Webster County Emergency Management Director Jeremy Moore and Judge Executive Jim Townsend attended a meeting hosted by FEMA Director Todd Bass from Atlanta, GA. During that meeting Bass told gathered officials that they need to adopt the new maps or lose Federal emergency funding.
Those funds would, according to Moore, include:
•National Flood Insurance
•Federal grants and loans for building in flood risk areas (HUD, EPA, small business loans, etc)
•Federal Disaster relief or FEMA money
When FEMA presented the flood maps to the county in December, problems with some of the flood zones were apparent.
According to Sebree area magistrate Jerry “Poogie” Brown, in his district there are places listed as being in a flood zone that have not flooded since the flood of 1937. The ‘37 flood is considered the worst flood in the area’s history.
Brown also added that a lot of work has been done since 1937 to reduce the odds of a major flood along the Green River.
Water Conservation District Agent Mike Andrews said that the flood zone in Sebree is at 386 feet, the elevation used by FEMA on the map. In the Blackford area the flood zone begins at 363.5. 
“The real issue in that area is the city of Blackford itself,” he told the court. “When they did the map, I think they just covered the whole town with the flood zone. There are a lot of structures in Blackford that are above the 363.5 foot benchmark.”
Andrews added that he didn’t think there was any way to change FEMA’s decision except for each land owner to go through the process of having their property surveyed.
Until FEMA presented the county with the new flood maps, Webster County was one of the only counties in the Commonwealth without FEMA flood maps. Instead, residents generally referred to the 1937 flood as a benchmark for flooding.
“The ‘37 flood is what is considered a 500-year-flood,” said Andrews. “It’s about a foot or so more than the 100-year-flood.”
The designation on the new FEMA maps is for the 100-year-flood level. Much of the debate around the maps in Sebree has centered on the fact that much of the new flood zone did not flood in the 1937 flood.
“Elevations don’t change,” Andrews said.
When the court voted down approval of the maps in February, it was with the understanding that FEMA would redo the maps, but seven months later the maps are just as they were before.
“It’s not right,” said Magistrate Jerry “Poogie” Brown. “If I’m not in a flood zone, I shouldn’t be put in it.”
Magistrate Tony Felker pointed out that the county had no control over that. The FEMA maps are in place whether the county approves them or not, but county approval is required in order for the county to get federal money.
Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White’s arguments against approving the maps weighed heavily in Webster County’s decision in February to reject them.
“I am not willing to be party to a government agency that is knowingly hurting our people and their home values if I have a choice, despite their threats,” wrote White. “By staying a part of the program we felt we were legitimizing the maps.  By coming out, we did get FEMA’s attention.  I haven’t found another county that has done that.”
Since Lyon County voted to reject the maps, White said, FEMA has agreed to revisit his county’s maps.
The biggest reason the Fiscal Court has seriously reconsidered voting to accept the maps, despite what everyone sees as clear errors, is the threat of losing FEMA funding that becomes available in the event of a flood. But according to White, that is a somewhat empty threat.
“If you read it closely, the FEMA funding rejection is only for areas where the flood zone touches, not the whole county,” said White. He added that during the 2011 flood, Lyon County did not qualify for individual assistance (IA).
“We did not have enough flood damage to homes. IA requires several homes in a long stretch to be wiped out and even if you qualify, its only around $30,000 per home.  Its very difficult to get individual assistance.  In areas where we actually have a true flood zone - if we lose every house in that flood zone - I don’t believe we would qualify for IA anyway.  So the threat is worthless to us.”
Lyon County did qualify for public assistance, which is for publicly owned property such as a county road or city street.
“None of that money we got was actually in a flood zone,” he wrote. “Most was out in the county where roads were damaged by heavy rains and washouts. FEMA will only deny you money if you are requesting money in those flood zones.  If we have a tornado or anything outside those small flood zone areas we still qualify.  They don’t cut off the whole county, only the specific area zoned to be in flood zone.”
Webster County’s magistrates intend to revisit the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 13, 2014. FEMA has said flood maps must be approved by the end of December.
The cities of Providence, Sebree, Clay and Wheatcroft, which have been a part of the FEMA plan since 1986, will not be affected by the county’s decision. They will be covered by FEMA regardless.
In other business, Jailer Terry Elder requested the use of a county mower to assist the city of Slaughters in mowing a ditch line adjacent to the Slaughters City Park.
“They don’t have any help down there,” Elder said. “Our work crew went through and did as much as we possibly could, but I didn’t want to risk someone getting hurt.”
Elder said he checked with surrounding property owners, and none of them had an issue with a county tractor crossing their property.

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