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Mazomanie residents receive explanation for FEMA buyouts


February 21, 2019

The Mazomanie village board members turned their attention to the subject which has drawn much attention over the past weeks and months. In order to ameliorate flooding along the Black Earth creek, FEMA has set aside $10 million dollars to be granted to municipalities to assist in buying properties lying in floodways. Each municipality determines which and how many properties to buyout according to FEMA guidelines and input from flood consultants and the village engineer.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6:00 p.m. the board heard from residents and the village flood consultant at the Mazomanie Municipal Building. Village Board President Gary Harrop prefaced his report by saying that the evening’s proceeding weren’t “going to turn into a circus,” in reference to the nature of the previous board meeting last month in which many residents spoke out during the board discussion period. Harrop explained that the flood consultant for the municipality was going to talk to the residents, numbering at about twenty in attendance, concerning flood mitigation, and then open the meeting up to public comment for a portion of the meeting. Harrop directed that “anyone who wants to speak out on flood mitigation buyout can only speak out for three minutes,” and that afterward only the board will talk.

Dale Klemme, the village flood consultant from Prairie du Chien, works with Community Development Alternatives. Klemme has a long history of involvement with public facility improvements and housing rehabilitation, assisting communities and organizations with flood recovery and economic development initiatives. Klemme directed his comments towards the residents in attendance, providing clarification about the process of flood recovery and FEMA buyouts. Klemme stated, “Flooding is a controversial issue, because it is emotional and unexpected. The cost of owning property in a flood plain is rising because federal flood insurance is rising in cost. After floods in the Kickapoo valley up north and in Dane county, there was a presidential proclamation which made additional monies available for flood mitigation.”

Klemme described how FEMA asked Wisconsin counties which experienced flood damage what they would like to have in financial assistance and what would they do with that money. The response from the counties was a request for $50 million in funding, some to be used for buyouts, some relocation, and some for raising properties. The federal government responded that there wasn’t enough money to cover the $50 million dollars requested, but there was $10 million. FEMA said they could do some buyouts, money for which municipalities in affected municipalities could apply for by March. FEMA then explained how to prioritize which houses they should buyout.

Klemme explained that surrounding a creek or river is a ‘flood plain’. The land closest to the creek, and most likely to flood, is call a ‘floodway’, and the homes in a flood way are those most likely to be damaged by flood and have experienced repetitive loses. The land within the flood plain, but outside of the floodway, is called the flood fringe. Lands outside the floodway but in the flood plain are at or below the base flood elevation that store, but do not effectively convey, floodwaters. Lands that compose the flood fringe will be inundated during a 1% chance flood event but, due to physical characteristics of the floodplain, do not effectively convey floodwaters.

“Some people desire the village to buy all properties; it just won’t fly,” Klemme explained. There is a limited amount of money for buyouts, and only properties which are in the floodway are eligible for the buyout. Mazomanie has worked in conjunction with Klemme and village engineer, Brian Berquist, to determine which properties are deemed most likely candidates to be bought out, homes which have experienced significant damage. FEMA will only cover 87.5 percent of the costs for the buyout, so the village would have to cover 12.5 percent of the costs, including demolition, inspections, and other upfront costs.

Klemme was quick to point out to the residents that “this whole flood mitigation is a process: it won’t happen in one fell swoop.” Money for buyouts and other financial instruments could come from the government which the village could capitalize on. He stated that there may be other items to mitigate flooding. “It might require channel maintenance. It might require construction reservoirs down the road. For some it might be elevating properties which affords flood protection. There are sometimes grants or programs which will offer money to pay for these things. When we find money that pops up, we jump on that money to help the people of the community. There may be money that communities can apply for to buy additional properties, or a grant which will lift up a house and raise the utilities.”

The village can add properties to the list if one drops out. One resident asked, “Does FEMA pay a lump sum of money to the village to buy properties?” Klemme explained that the village will pay for the appraisal fee, pay the homeowner for the house, and cover all other expenses, and then once acquisition is complete and documentation is submitted to FEMA, they will send back a check to the village which is 87.5 percent of all approved expenses, as long as the properties meet priority criteria. FEMA wants to eliminate properties in the floodway because they don’t want to come back and pay flood insurance.

In a written report from village engineer, Berquist reported on his work with the same subject matter as the flood consultant, speaking about flood plains, FEMA, and how the tax base and utilities users have priority in buyouts. There will be eight properties submitted to FEMA, but one of those has said he is not interested in the buyout, but the board President is concerned that it is possible that he doesn’t understand the ramifications of his decision. He has directed the village lawyer to draw up a disclosure agreement to give to him to have the property owner sign to indicate he understands the offer being made to him, and that he has a right to accept or refuse the offer. If he finally refuses, another property may be substituted in place of his.

The board then opened the floor for public comment and questions concerning the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant program. Much of the conversation had to do specifically with the alternates list. There were three properties which had been tentatively added to the list as alternates in the event one of the original eight properties withdrew. On resident stated, “I hope they will still keep these alternates on the list.” Harrop clarified that those properties had been added as alternates based on recommendations from Klemme and Berquist, and that if any other properties were asked to be added, they would have to be approved by these consultants.

One resident asked, “So, you granted residents the ability to fix a home, and are now offering the buyout. That doesn’t make sense.” Other woman asked, “Why are other people not offered a buyout? When they bought the property, it wasn’t disclosed that the property was flooded out many times.”

After a time of open discussion, the public discourse was finished, and village board discussion began. Trustee Natalie Beil raised questions concerning the eight properties that are on a list for a buyout and the alternates. “Some of the properties are not in the floodway, so why are they on the list?” Harrop responded that “they were included because the engineer has recommended moving them because if they are removed they are more likely to allow the flow of water to be limited.” The plan is to buyout certain properties and to remove them from the floodway so that they would not impede water from running off, thereby mitigating flooding.

Trustee Jeri Springstead asked, “Why are we haggling over the eight properties when there may be more money coming? We are offering people money to buy their house. We are just trying to get some money to help some people out, but we can’t foresee what might happen in the future.” Harrop added, “These houses will eventually be flooded out in the future.”

Trustee Jeff Dyreson said, “We don’t have the expertise to determine who should be on the list,” and that if there were other alternates to be added they would need to be passed by the experts. Beil said they should buyout the ones that make sense. “The ones they have now don’t make sense,” she said.

Trustee Ray Schlamp said, “I make a motion that accept Brian Berquist’s recommendation of eight people to submit to FEMA, and we can change the motion to seven if we need to. We will include the eighth one if we get his agreement.”

The motion carried, approved five to one.

The board also addressed an ordinance which had been drafted but was not in alignment with other ordinances concerning ATVs and UTVs. Changes will be made concerning whether or not these vehicles will be allowed to park along parkways and roadways unless posted otherwise. The village public works department shall post signs by the village public works departments.

The board decided that staff members can be given the authority to hire next summer’s lifeguard without having to bring those human resource decisions back to the board. The board has full confidence that village staff can figure it out.

This was the final report for second shift officer Deputy Lafevre who reported that there was a lower call volume for the month, but a higher accidents events, as well as a drug investigation from a traffic stop with minor drugs. He will be replaced by Deputy Kyle Keller.


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