Floodplain violations still need more work

SHADY COVE — An overflow and sometimes angry group of citizens crowded into council chambers on Thursday, to hear what progress was being made toward bringing 28 properties into compliance with Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain regulations.

FEMA officials had inspected the Shady Cove properties in 2001 and declared them in violation of the regulations.

In July of this year, the city was warned that unless the offending properties were brought into full compliance, FEMA might place the city on probation Nov. 2.

Probation would mean that policyholders of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) would be charged an additional $50 premium surcharge when they renew their policy or when a new policy is written.

If the violations are not corrected, the city could be suspended from the NFIP and residents would no longer be able to buy flood insurance, this in a town bisected by the Rogue River with a lot of development right on the river's banks.

During an August meeting with city officials and representatives of the state and Jackson County, FEMA officials implied that probation was already unavoidable.

In response, earlier this month the city began a series of follow-up inspections aimed at assessing the current status of the floodplain violations.

In addition, the inspection team was looking at the feasibility of potential corrections and attempting to estimate the actual costs of bringing each property into compliance.

The team includes the city engineer, public works director, county and state representatives and four private contractors.

"The contractors are not charging for their services," said public works director George Bostic. "They are helping with the inspections, because they hope they'll get some of the business."

Bostic said three subcontractors are assisting a general contractor who has extensive experience with floodplain work.

Before inspections began, FEMA revised the original number of noncompliant properties down from 28 to 25. Two of the properties were actually in compliance and another was outside the city limits.

So far, 18 properties have been inspected.

"Seven are already in total compliance," said City Administrator Elise Smurzynski. "Two have made no corrections at all and 12 have made partial corrections."

She said two property owners were not available for any of the three inspections conducted this month and will be scheduled as soon as possible.

"We also have the two properties that are candidates for the '1316' process," said Smurzynski. "They are the owners who say they will never comply with FEMA's regulations."

The "1316" process refers to Section 1316 of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968, which allows FEMA to deny flood insurance to noncompliant properties and remove them from a community's floodplain management procedures.

Remaining issues facing the 12 properties that have made partial corrections range from elevation of a heat exchanger above the base flood elevation level to what FEMA calls, an "egregious violation."

"Their definition is that these are properties with life-threatening violations," said Smurzynski. "That would be anything that creates livable conditions below the base floodplain elevation — toilets, sinks, showers, carpeting and electrical."

There are eight properties that fit into the egregious violations category and still have not been corrected, although Smurzynski noted that one of those properties only needs to remove or elevate a freezer.

She said she anticipates receiving reports from the inspection team members by the end of next week. Once those reports are compiled, she will prepare a report for the council "regarding costs, proposed remedies and recommendations from the individuals and agencies participating in the inspections."

A few of the residents said they thought the city was moving too slowly and wasn't being honest with the public. Others questioned why it had taken more than six years for the city to address the violations.

"I wish I could change the past," said Mayor Ruth Keith. "That would certainly solve a lot of problems. But we have to keep moving and continue to make the progress that we are making.

"There's still a lot of work to do and we will take whatever steps are necessary to get where we need to be."

Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com

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