BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH, Ky. - Moving to higher ground is the best way to keep Falmouth alive, federal and local officials said Thursday.
''FEMA has told us the preferred and recommended option is relocation,'' Falmouth Councilman Jeff Carson said.
City and Pendleton County officials said they'd like to see preliminary ideas of where to rebuild and what the new Falmouth would look like.
''I'd like to get something so residents could see what the possibilities for the future are,'' Mr. Carson said.
The swollen Licking River tore through this city March 1. High water caused $36 million in damage in Pendleton County - nearly $29 million in Falmouth and $7 million in Butler.
Nearly 200 homes were destroyed, 300 more are being demolished, and many businesses suffered tremendous losses.
Local officials said they won't decide on relocation until they meet with residents to gauge support for moving the bulk of the city. They scheduled a meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday at a location to be determined.
Today, the city commission and Pendleton County Fiscal Court will meet to discuss the ramifications of relocation, as well as other options.
Wanda and Everett Fowee said they would like to see a buyout. Their home on Barkley Street has been condemned and will be torn down.
''FEMA tells me they will buy the land,'' Mrs. Fowee said. ''I just miss my friends and my home and want to be back with everyone.''
The Fowees are staying two hours away with their daughter in Richmond, Ky. Mrs. Fowee said she's been on the phone for two weeks trying to find rental housing.
''I have tried everywhere, and the only places (available) have $700 rent for a month. FEMA only gave me $800 for three months,'' she said.
Aware of the housing problem, local government, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state say they will make it possible for 200 families to move back sooner than they expected.
Up to 200 mobile homes will be leased from FEMA to create a temporary community on 78 acres one mile south of Falmouth, Pendleton Judge-executive Donald Mays said.
Many of the 1992 or newer 12- by 60-foot homes are in storage at the Bluegrass Army Depot near Lexington, Ky. They will be equipped with all appliances except air conditioners and will be leased to the county for 18 months.
Those who live in the trailers will not have to pay rent, FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak said. Priority will be given to residents with no other housing options with family or friends.
Mobile homes are the last option because they take the longest to prepare, Ms. Hudak said. FEMA tries first to find rental housing or other accommodations.
Stephen Haviland, director of the state Division of Engineering, said crews will begin today to conduct an environmental study of the land and create trailer pads with water, electric and sewer hookups.
He said residents could occupy the homes within 30 days.
County officials have an option on the land, which they had hoped to use for an industrial park. Instead, the $500,000 purchase price will be covered by $5,000 from the county, with the rest in a loan from the state.
Department of Local Government Commissioner Bob Arnold told the Pendleton Fiscal Court it could use a $1 million Community Development Block Grant awarded for the expansion of ATK Manufacturing on the same land to create the temporary settlement.
''We feel confident that the industrial prospect will work out,'' Mr. Arnold said. ''You won't be out on the line for the loan.''
Similar temporary housing efforts are under way for Ohio's flood-damaged communities.
FEMA is giving Ohio flood victims money to rent travel trailers and have them brought to their property and hooked up, spokeswoman Linda Sacia said. Temporary trailers on floodplains must be travel trailers with wheels - not mobile homes.
In Adams County, demolition begins this weekend on 69 homes in Manchester. The next step there is to determine where and how to rebuild. A town meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Manchester High School on Ninth Street.
Local officials have until April 30 to apply for federal money to buy out flood victims. FEMA usually pays 75 percent of the cost with the state covering 13 percent and the local government 12 percent.
Communities must determine how many homeowners want to participate in the buyout and include them all in one application.
Tanya Bricking contributed to this report.