On Wednesday, Indiana Department of Homeland Security (IDHS) Mitigation Program Director Manuela Johnson led a meeting about the Mitigation Acquisition Program at Brazil City Hall.
"Our purpose is to provide general details about the program and make the public aware of the options being looked at," Johnson said. "Should there be enough interest generated, we will conduct more meetings in the future to go over specifics."
She told those in attendance the program is sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which allocates grant monies for the acquisition of homes located in a floodway.
"The program is 75-percent federal funds, and requires 25-percent local funding, which does not necessarily have to be cash," Johnson said. "However, the program is also 100-percent voluntary so the city and individuals are not forced to participate. Also, at any point up to three days after the funding is allocated, an individual may back out if they change their mind."
One reason the meeting was organized came from calls IDHS had been receiving from Brazil residents concerned about flood issues in the city, particularly along Pogues Run.
"Pogues Run was buried many years ago in a pipe," Johnson said. "When these systems were constructed, they were not built to handle the large volumes of flow we have been getting lately."
She added the acquisition program is not a quick process, and it could take approximately three years for funding to be released to agencies.
"Normally, it takes about six months just to write the grant application," Johnson said. "Part of the reason for this is we have to pull the property cards to get the assessed value, take photos of the homes for an environmental and historical survey and take a survey of the first floor elevation for the cost-benefit analysis."
Once the grant application is submitted, FEMA conducts a review, double-checking the figures and determining completeness and eligibility.
Once an application is approved, the city would have to conduct two appraisals on each property in which the owner has completed an intent to sell form to participate in the program.
"The appraisals are based on the Fair Market Value of the home as if it had not been damaged by the recent flood event," Johnson said. "The average of the two appraisals is then calculated, and natural neglect, like not repairing broken roof shingles prior to the flood damage is taken into account as well."
Johnson encouraged those making repairs along the way to keep their receipts, which can be taken into consideration, and described what happens once a property is acquired.
"Once title work and closing on the property is complete, the home may either be relocated or demolished, and the land has to be held by the city into perpetuity, or in other words, forever," she said. "The land is then considered 'flood storage,' and cannot be sold to anyone else, including developers. It can be turned into a public park or walking path, and we even had one community turn it into soccer fields."
She informed the crowd a priority list is composed of homes with the most need to be acquired and attempts are made to get an entire group of homes in one area, rather than "hop scotching" a home here and there, in order to provide a more efficient floodway.
New floodplain and floodway maps are currently in the approval process with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and are anticipated to be in place sometime in September.
Johnson said the reflection of a floodway in a title or deed has no bearing on the determination for the release of grant funding.
"Some older flood maps did not show the buried portion of Pogues Run," she said.
A concern was raised during the meeting about the possibility of the city backing out of the program after homeowners sign their intent to sell documents.
"We've never encountered a situation where a city or county backs out, unless they are unable to come up with the matching funds," IDHS State Hazard Mitigation Officer Jan Crider said. "However, if an individual becomes overly hostile during the process, the city or county has the option of dropping them off the application. Individuals and homeowners have no money into this program themselves because the city fronts the entire match."
Crider added homeowners may request a third appraisal of their own, which would also be considered.
Johnson said owners may also take mitigation action of their own, like taking out wet carpet and insulation, since the appraisal determines the value as if the home had not suffered flood damage.
Brazil Planning Administrator Stacy Gibbens said she has already started the process of collecting photos of homes in the floodway to assist in the process of updating the maps, along with having them on record should the application process begin.
Clay County Emergency Management Director Bryan Husband added there are currently 41 residents in Brazil and Clay County who are on the application for individual assistance following the initial April 19 storms, and Johnson encouraged those in attendance to be proactive in the approach of this process.
"Talk to your neighbors and see if they would be on board with this program," Johnson said. "The state is currently reviewing the application for individual assistance and the more people who report damage, the better the chance of being included. But remember, participation in the Mitigation Acquisition Program is 100-percent voluntary."
To report damage since the April 19 storms, or to request additional information about the Mitigation Acquisition Program, contact Gibbens at 443-0050, or Husband at 448-8400.
Opportunity to receive public funding still there
Clay County was not included as part of the 32 counties approved for public aid following the severe storms in Indiana starting April 19.
However, there still may be time for the county to get added to the list.
IDHS Mitigation Program Director Manuela Johnson told The Brazil Times there is not currently an end date for the acceptance of flood damage reports.
"We still encourage people to turn in reports of damage from the floods and storms," Johnson said. "If more reports are turned in, there is a chance Clay County and Brazil could be added to the list of counties receiving public assistance."
Those who have suffered storm damages since April 19 should contact Clay County Emergency Management Director Bryan Husband at 448-8400 or Brazil City Planning and Zoning Administrator Stacy Gibbens at 446-0050 for more information.