BY ANDREA TORTORA
The Cincinnati Enquirer
FALMOUTH - Support is building for razing what's left of Falmouth's low-lying residential section and relocating occupants to higher ground.
''I think relocation is the only way to go,'' Pendleton Street resident Bob Pettit said after listening Friday to the Falmouth City Council discuss rebuilding options.
''It will benefit more people in the long run and maybe help keep a lot of people here.''
The council met so all members would know what's in store and what to tell residents during a town meeting planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Griffin Center.
Today, Butler and Falmouth city councils and the Pendleton Fiscal Court will meet with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Disaster Emergency Service to discuss the ramifications of relocation, as well as other options.
''We are going to let the residents tell us what they want to do,'' councilman Jeff Carson said.
Local officials must apply for FEMA grants for relocation or flood protection programs by April 30.
There are three choices:
If residents opt to rebuild at their current addresses, it could cost more than constructing a new home, councilman Anthony Strong said.
- Rebuild in the same location, adhering to city ordinances and National Flood Insurance regulations.
- Apply to FEMA for a relocation grant and use the funds to buy out private property.
- Forego a buy out and pursue flood protection measures like a dam or flood wall.
Home owners would need a cost estimate for rebuilding and repairs and a city permit.
A flood administrator would then estimate the damage to the property. If the structure suffered more than 50 percent of its
pre-flood value in damages, the first floor of the rebuilt home must be elevated above the 100-year flood level.
Damages would be calculated by taking the tax assessed value of the home times 120 minus the value of the lot, property valuation administrator James Kimble said.
No elevation would be required for homes with less than 50 percent damage, Mr. Strong said. But if another flood hits within five years of March 1, 1997, and homes under 50 percent damage suffer new damages to put them over 50 percent, owners would then have to elevate.
''The reason for this is that part of flood damage control is to reduce damage to property,'' Mr. Strong said.
But in the 1964 and 1997 floods, water rose much higher than the 100-year flood plain. For example, BB's Superstation is built 8 feet above the 100-year level yet water was up to the gas station's roof on March 1.
Flood insurance also would be required for residents opting to rebuild. Current rates are about $500 for $100,000 of insurance. Homes built above the 100-year flood level could be covered at the same amount for about $195; homes rebuilt below the flood level would have to pay as much as $2,500 for the same coverage.
Hazard mitigation makes up the other two options.
''FEMA is telling us that resident relocation is the most expedient way to keep this from ever happening again,'' Mr. Carson said.
Moving the bulk of the town's residential area means the county would apply to FEMA for funds to offer home owners the fair market value on the preflood conditions of their homes, paying them to move elsewhere.
''Nobody can make you sell your home, but if you choose to stay in that flood plain area and this happens again, don't call us,'' Mr. Carson said. ''If you choose to stay and there is a buy out, you are basically on your own.''
Grants for a dam or other flood protection also could be pursued, but FEMA has told officials it will consider relocation applications first.
If there is a buy out, the city and the county become the property owners. ''Then as long as there is a chance of flooding, the land can't be used for residential housing, only for parks and fair grounds with open-air buildings,'' Mr. Strong said.
Vivian Marquardt, who owns rental property on Pendleton Street and saw the homes of her father, daughter and son damaged in the flood, said moving out should be a priority.
''A dam has been kicked around since 1936 and here we sit in another flood just like the one in 1964 that they called a freak of nature,'' she said. ''It's happened again and who knows when it will again. It's time to get out.''