[env-trinity] Floodplain issue for some seeking to rebuild after fire

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Wed Feb 14 08:22:06 PST 2018


Floodplain issue for some seeking to rebuild after fire
   - By AMY GITTELSOHN The Trinity Journal
 - 1 hr ago
 -  0
As Junction City residents whose homes burned five months ago in the Helena fire prepare to rebuild, some are hearing about an unexpected complication.If their home was in the Trinity River floodplain, they’ll have to move their site to higher ground or build “flood safe,” increasing the expense. Responding to that hardship, the county plans to apply for a program that would assist with 75 percent of the cost.In many cases it isn’t the homeowners’ fault they’re in the 100-year floodplain. A few years ago, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released more accurate maps than those done in the 1970s. Some of the homes were likely built even before that when there were no floodplain maps available at all, said Rick Tippett, county director of transportation, who oversees floodplain management.“Inadvertently, some had constructed where they believed their house was flood safe and it turned out it was not,” Tippett said. “They found themselves in the floodplain.”Worse, a few were built in the floodway where floodwaters race more strongly than the floodplain further out, Tippett said. Those structures can’t be rebuilt in the floodway, Tippett said. They could relocate.While some sorts of non-compliant structures can be “grandfathered” and reconstructed non-compliant, under county ordinance that doesn’t apply to building in the floodplain, Tippett said.“It’s county ordinance but the county ordinance is driven through the National Flood Insurance Program,” Tippett said, adding that it’s important the county continue to be responsive so FEMA, which manages the insurance program, can offer more affordable rates here.Also, he said, it’s the county’s responsibility to ensure that safety issues are addressed when homes are reconstructed.Requirements of rebuilding near the river include a floodplain certification prepared by a licensed land surveyor. Flood safe construction required in the floodplain means that the finished floor elevation must be at least 2 feet above the floodplain elevation, he said.“It’s known as a building on stilts,” Tippett said. “Those foundations are built with devices that allow water to pass through, in and out, so it doesn’t become an obstacle in the water.”The added cost to reconstructing flood safe could run in the tens of thousands of dollars for a home, Tippett said. “The problem is a lot of the folks that were insured were insured for existing structures in the manner they were constructed.”He didn’t have an exact number for the homesites involved, but said up to 30 burned properties that include some floodplain might be affected.“Nobody has been identified yet,” Tippett said, adding that usually that happens when people come to the department with their building plans.Floodplain maps are available at the county Department of Transportation, Planning Department and online at the FEMA website. Building sites very close to flood elevation will need a more finely tuned look.To rebuild close to the floodplain, to be prudent the homeowner might want to have a land surveyor or engineer check before they get building plans, he said.“We were hoping to mark the floodplain,” Tippett said, but found the $15,000 to $20,000 cost would put a strain on an already distressed survey program.The good news, Tippett said, is that it looks like the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program administered by FEMA and Cal OES could be of help to homeowners facing the extra cost.Tippett said a note of interest has been submitted to the agencies, and the response was positive. The program can assist with voluntary property acquisition, reconstruction assistance, and assistance for existing structures. The initial ask from the county is $2.7 million, and that would have to be matched 25 percent by homeowners using the program to make their homes flood safe.In addition to assisting with the flood safe aspect of rebuilding, the changes should result in lower flood insurance rates, he said.Before submitting the actual application, which is due mid-summer, “we need to determine who’s interested,” Tippett said. “We have to go out and figure the scope and depth of what to apply for.”He anticipates after discussing the program with the Trinity County Board of Supervisors the board will provide direction on how to identify participants.“This is really important for the folks that have to rebuild,” he said. “Here’s a program that will pick up 75 percent of the cost” to make the home flood safe.   
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