Marble Hill working on flood buyouts for six properties along creek

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

MARBLE HILL, Mo. -- In March, Marble Hill experienced significant flooding along Crooked Creek.

Though it's been a long process, Marble Hill's Administrative Assistant Gary Shrum, said the town is completing its application to buyout six properties along the creek.

The record-setting flood of 1993 served as the catalyst for Missouri governments to seek help with the devastating aftermath of flooding. What resulted were buyouts of flood-prone properties using funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the State Emergency Management Agency and the local government.

"We are just about wrapped up with the application process, so it will just be a matter of turning it in and seeking approval," Shrum said. "It's a long and laborious project."

After three months of planning and paperwork, Shrum estimates the project will cost about $284,000. He said SEMA will pay 75 percent and the remaining 25 percent will come from the local level.

"We are working with the Southeast Regional Planning Agency to get a Community Development Block Grant for the 25 percent, which is about $75,000 to $80,000," he said.

Community Development Block Grants only apply to a city or county listed as a federally declared disaster, but this poses no problem to the buyout in Marble Hill. The March floods received a presidential disaster declaration and a Small Business Administration disaster declaration.

"I am fairly confident that we will get that block grant," Shrum said.

While the buyout will offer relief to some residents, the funding won't go to buyout residents alone.

"You have to take into consideration the legal costs. There's material inspection, mainly of asbestos, which must be removed by law," he said. "We also have to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure there are no endangered species of animal or plant life."

The project budget also includes appraisals, title work, asbestos identification and demolition.

"There are surveys and all that, just like with any other real estate transfer," Shrum said.

If the buyout is approved, the property will be deed-restricted and nothing can be built on it. But Mayor Russel Masterson said he hopes it doesn't remain vacant.

"There are things that can be done with this land, but they can't be permanent fixtures," he said. "There's potential for recreational facilities along Crooked Creek, as long as they stay mobile. But if we could get the river to not flood, we could develop that land."

Flooding along the creek is nothing new for Marble Hill. Shrum said some of the property included in this buyout will join with some bought in a buyout in 2002.

"They have been flooded numerous times. A couple of [properties] were refused in the last buyout. They weren't rejected because of the location or flooding, but because of the landowners. They didn't want to sell them at the time, but now they've decided enough is enough," Shrum said.

Voluntary participation in the buyout program offers the owner the preflood fair-market value as determined by a Missouri-certified appraiser. But this can be a traumatic decision for homeowners, especially those who have lived in an area for generations. Mayor Russell Masterson said this is the case for most Marble Hill residents.

"To most of the people in this area, this is home. There's families who have been here for 40, 50, 60, even 70 years," he said. "It's the only home they have, and to pack up and leave is awfully difficult."

But often times, a buyout is the only thing that can alleviate the trauma of their houses being flooded again.

"It's so detrimental to people's lives and their property. If they don't leave, they have to fight this thing all over again," Masterson said. "At least we won't have as much devastation when it floods again, cause it will."

Shrum said he hopes the buyout will eventually lower flood insurance costs in Marble Hill.

"They'll be able to see there aren't as many claims or possibilities of future floods affecting a lot of people," he said.

Marble Hill is holding a public hearing Jan. 12 to discuss the city's application for the block grant and the buyout.

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