Thursday, February 07, 2002

FEMA scolds river town for delay in filing report

Lawrenceburg gets busy on 1997 flood paperwork

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LAWRENCEBURG — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has chastised Lawrenceburg because two administrations have not filed a report on the 1997 flood at Dearborn Plaza on U.S. 50.

        “FEMA told us, "All you guys have to do is write the report that we've been asking you for for four years,'” said Jeff Dornette, the attorney for City Council. “So the council will step up and do it. This is easily resolved. It's so easily resolved that it's ridiculous.”

        He said the report should state that there was no substantial structural damage.

        Mayor Paul Tremain did not return telephone calls Tuesday and Wednesday, and his staff declined to comment on the matter. But the city's attorney, Matt Zerbe, said writing the report will be a top priority.

        “I'm sure everybody is scrambling to make certain everything is filed,” he said. “The gist of FEMA's message is: "Get your house in order.' They don't want to jerk our flood insurance. That's a last-ditch thing.”

        Lawrenceburg is on the Ohio River. U.S. 50, near the plaza, lies in the flood plain.

        Mr. Dornette said the city erred by issuing a building permit to construct the modular Fifth Third Bank at the plaza after the building burned last year.

        “We're not sure why the administration did that,” he said. “It was the only building in the entire city that's nonconforming. Permits were issued contrary to the city's own ordinances and the FEMA.”

        Stacie Haas, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third, said the bank isn't aware of any problems with FEMA.

        “A new building is up and has been running for 30 days. It meets specifications and we haven't been approached otherwise,” Ms. Haas said.

        Because the city has not filed the report, Mr. Dornette said, FEMA has listed all the buildings in the plaza area as being nonconforming.

        It is unusual for a city not to file a report from a flood, said Regina Wilbur of the FEMA office in Beltsville, Md.

        If a flood-damage report is not filed, Lawrenceburg could suffer repercussions. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources could claim Lawrenceburg is not complying with federal flood regulations, and recommend the city be placed on probation for one year.

        During that time, the city would have to show that it's doing something to improve the problem. After the year, FEMA officials could go to Washington “to try to pull our flood insurance,” Mr. Dornette said. “But at this moment, the state has not even certified noncompliance to FEMA.”

        Because Dearborn Plaza was built before the National Flood Insurance Act was passed in 1982, Mr. Dornette said, the shopping center was grandfathered to have flood insurance.

        He said FEMA regulations state that grandfathered property sustaining structural damage of more than 50 percent of value cannot be rebuilt. So a report was necessary.

        “There was almost no damage to the structures,” he said. “But to this day, this has never been answered (by a report).”

        To complicate the problem, Lawrenceburg council has been debating a proposed $38 million levee on the west side.

        “We voted to put in the levee, but then we rejected it,” Councilwoman Mildred Hornbach said.

        Mr. Zerbe said the project didn't make economic sense to four of five council members because they believe the levee would be too expensive for the 250 acres it would protect.

        “But now, what is the cost of remedial action (at the plaza)?” he said. “I don't think any of us know that.”

        Four of five council members oppose the levee, enough to override a mayoral veto, Mr. Dornette said.


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