Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties since 1895

 
 

By Shawn Jansen
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Flood buyout drawing held

Floodplain maps updated

 

Dolly Phaller

Deb Gray from the county administrator's office, left, assists with the June 2012 flood buyout drawing Thursday at the Pine County courthouse. County Assessor Kelly Schroeder, right, arranged a random drawing for the order in which FEMA buyouts will occur. Homestead properties were prioritized ahead of non-homestead properties. Dolly and Don Phaller, homeowners participating in the buyout, witnessed the drawing.

Sturgeon Lake Mayor Thomas Helfman told the city council Thursday, November 7, that regulations will change now that the homesteads in Cathedral Pines are considered to be in a floodplain. Helfman said, "In all, about 25 properties are affected (by the floodplain)." Helfman said a written summary of the floodplain ordinance will be given to the affected property owners where future building codes are concerned.

Unfortunately, the notification is more than a year too late for the residents of the Cathedral Pines area. Residents there say they were never notified of the changes in the floodplain designation when new floodplain maps became effective April 3, 2012, prior to the June 2012 flood.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been methodically updating floodplain maps across the nation. According to a library of documents on its website, FEMA issued letters of final determination to Pine County municipalities in October 2011 that new floodplain maps would become effective April 3, 2012.

According to FEMA, preliminary digital flood insurance rate map (DFIRM) panels and a preliminary flood insurance study dated June 15, 2010, were mailed to all communities in the county. Next, FEMA and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted flood risk information meetings for local officials and residents March 15, 2011, at the Pine City library.

According to Suzanne Jiwani, floodplain mapping engineer for the DNR, the municipality that issues the building permit for a particular location is responsible for notifying property owners of the changes in floodplain maps.

According to the invitations to municipalities dated February 22, 2011, "Participation in the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) will require that your community adopt the new flood risk data into appropriate flood protection regulations by the time the new FIRM goes into effect."

The sign-in document shows that no city officials from north of Sandstone attended the March 15, 2011, meeting.

When Helfman was asked in a phone interview this September about the floodplain designation of the Cathedral Pines area, he stated, "That was always a floodplain." Helfman explained the purpose of a floodplain ordinance is to prevent building in flood-prone areas. Helfman said Sturgeon Lake adopted its floodplain ordinance late last year. "Ours is in effect; people can get flood insurance," said Helfman.

Former Cathedral Pines resident Jan Gertzen said, in a recent phone interview, "When we bought our house in 2000, we were not in a floodplain and were not required to have flood insurance." Gertzen explained she thought their mortgage lender would have required it otherwise. The couple later purchased flood insurance on their own after the river rose in 2001.

Although the house they purchased was built in 1999, the Gertzens are taking the buyout "because there's no value in our home anymore and we wouldn't be able to sell it."

Gertzen said, "With the climate changes, is that (100-year flood) going to happen again?"

In a phone call Monday, Judy Koch said of the home she and her husband are rebuilding in the Cathedral Pines area, "First knowledge that it was part of the floodplain was after the flood." The couple's home and garage was under 5-6 feet of water in the June 2012 flood.

She and her husband Tom bought their place as a shell in 1999. She said the area was originally part of Sturgeon Lake Township and was later annexed around the time the city began its water and sewer project.

Koch said their Small Business Administration loan application to rebuild after the flood was denied because the city of Sturgeon Lake was not compliant with FEMA requirements.

"We have flood insurance now," said Koch. She said she and her husband like the area and don't want to leave. "We've gotten help from a lot of different sources. Pine County has been good to us." She said the couple lost about $300,000 in the whole situation. "We had 16 tons of garbage." She said they burned what they could and saved only the silverware. "I was able to get it clean and bleached it five times," Koch said.

Of their home in the Cathedral Pines neighborhood, Shirley Klossner said in a phone interview Monday, she and her husband, Bill, "purchased in 1999 and weren't in a floodplain. The river is small and most of the time is knee-deep at the most."

Klossner said their place is on a 100-foot setback from the river. She added, the home, with a three-foot crawl space, is 15 to 20 feet above the river. "We had five feet of water," said Klossner of the June 2012 flood level in their home.

The Klossners are taking the buyout. "My husband and I are in our 70s. To start rebuilding at our age was too much." The Klossners qualified for an SBA loan but the loans are treated as a mortgage with terms of 30 years.

Klossner said, "The shoe doesn't fit everybody." Because the couple didn't take the SBA loan, they didn't qualify for state assistance from the QuickStart program. "We didn't qualify for anything else because of income," Klossner said.

Kelly Schroeder, Pine County assessor, asked for input from those participating in the buyouts on how to choose the order in which the buyouts should proceed. The county is limited on how many buyouts can take place in a week and per month because the FEMA program operates on a reimbursement basis.

A random drawing took place November 7, homestead properties first, then non-homestead. "I understood what she had to do," said Klossner of Schroeder's plan. "We're grateful it's happening."

The Klossners were chosen for the No. 2 spot on the homestead list. "We lucked out," she said. According to Schroeder, the award letter is expected sometime this week or next. With 14 on the homestead list and 18 on the non-homestead list, the buyouts are expected to stretch into spring.

When Rutledge residents on Bald Eagle Lane were notified they were living in an area newly designated in the floodplain, residents began researching their flood insurance options. Residents found they could not purchase flood insurance because the city had not adopted a floodplain ordinance. The city began to take steps to adopt a floodplain ordinance in response to requests from residents, but not in time for the June 2012 flood.

According to Lynette Hischer, city clerk of Rutledge, the city did adopt a floodplain ordinance in the fall of 2012. However, the city was requested by residents to adopt a new ordinance as the first one limited the rebuilding options to only the use of fill to elevate one's home to above flood stage.

"The acreage was not large enough for the amount of fill needed to elevate the homes," said Hischer. The new ordinance, adopted May 1, allows conditional use, permitting other options to elevate homes.

Ed Melzark Sr., environmental technician/zoning administrator for Pine County, explained that a floodway encompasses the bed of the body of water and the area covered by regional flood discharge or "that portion where you have the turbulence." The flood fringe, he explained, is that portion of the floodplain outside of the floodway.

Hischer reported those properties designated in the floodway were not allowed to be rebuilt, while those on the flood fringe did have that option. Most of those in the floodway were potential applicants for the buyout, 16 in all. She said the city has received a couple of permit applications for those seeking to rebuild.

Hischer said of the recovery process, "Everybody had to learn as we went," saying much of the terminology involved was not familiar. "It's just a very long process."

 

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