BY JOHN ECKBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As residents in the Ohio River Valley continue to dig out the debris and dirt from the Flood of '97, communities are digging in to pay a big infrastructure repair bill.
Fixing roads, civic buildings and water and sewer mains will cost Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars. Some payrolls will be swamped from overtime to clean streets and facilities, while other towns must replace equipment as basic as police cars and sewer pumps.
In Falmouth, Ky., leaders estimate more than $1.5 million in damages at the City Hall/police station, fire station/ambulance center and library.
Although damage to private property was significant in Falmouth and New Richmond, Brown, Scioto and Adams counties in Ohio may have the most costly infrastructure damage: a road repair bill expected to top $45 million.
In New Richmond, floodwater swamped the village's emergency medical service building at 300 Hamilton St., which houses ambulances and emergency medical equipment. The village expects a $200,000 infrastructure repair tab.
In Brown County, the flood has laid waste to the village's sewage treatment plant. It will be months before it is up and running at full capacity, Utility Superintendent Elliott Lindsey told the village council Monday. The bill: at least $15,000.
''This flood is going to break Aberdeen,'' Mayor Gary Himes said. ''But we'll get it back.''
In Kentucky, Augusta Mayor Lou Habermehl Jr. worries about how his town will pay for repairs and said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will play a major role.
''We're budgeted for a certain amount for salaries,'' he said. ''Overtime was not prepared for.''
Robert Dunnerstick, assistant Ohio superintendent of education, spent five days touring damaged school property in Southern Ohio, from Washington County in the east to Hamilton County in the west. He was numb from the destruction.
''We visited 14 districts in nine counties,'' he said. ''I have never seen such devastation. There is water damage to buildings, supplies and textbooks. That doesn't include the hidden cost of man hours to do the cleanup.''
Schools turn to FEMA
Schools will seek reimbursement from FEMA for damages, he said, adding most districts do not have flood insurance because most are not in flood plains.
''Most schools have a strapped budget,'' Mr. Dunnerstick said. ''We will be looking to FEMA - to a bigger barrel - for funding in these communities.''
Cincinnati schools had little damage: a flooded basement at Project Succeed Academy. In Indiana, schools were unscathed, said Jeff Zaring, state education administrator. ''We had kids coming out in boats to meet buses. School went on,'' he said.
Damage to Kentucky schools will not be significant, said Jim Parks, education department press secretary. Since the 1960s, it has been illegal in Kentucky to build schools in flood plains. ''New schools were built on the ridge rather than by the creek,'' he said.
The only school harmed in Falmouth was Pendleton County Middle School, with water in the basement. Ohio schools must comply with local building codes pertaining to flood-plain construction, said Miriam Segaloff, Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman.
''Much of the cost we incurred is the result of students who had taken educational materials home with them,'' said Franklin Brown, architect and consultant with the Ohio division of school finance.
'Finding new stuff every day'
As communities make headway on homes and businesses, leaders know the heavy lifting is still to come for local governments.
''We're finding new stuff every day,'' said Gerald Hart Wallingford, Adams County engineer. Between 35 and 40 miles of roads must be reconstructed in the county - at a projected $20 million cost. Forty-six bridges must be replaced or repaired.
In Brown County, millions in damages came in the first hours as torrents swept through creek valleys.
''Asphalt and roadbeds were just torn away,'' county Commissioner Jim Ferguson said.
Utility companies did not escape the wrath of the water.
''Our biggest impact is going to be overtime for our employees,'' said Steve Brash, spokesman for Cinergy Corp.
Cincinnati Bell Telephone spokesman Erik Kirkhorn said the company had no flood loss estimate, though overtime will be a major expense.
Removal of debris from Cincinnati Recreation Commission golf courses, boat ramps, soccer fields, playgrounds and public swimming pools is projected to cost $500,000.
While parking areas in Cincinnati's Cinergy Field were flooded, the artificial grass playing field received no damage. Escalators leading from the lower levels will be repaired in time for the Reds' April 1 opening day, officials said.
Mike Boyer, Lisa Donovan, Beth Menge, Anne Michaud, Andrea Tortora and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
TRISTATE DAMAGE REPORT