Olive Branch, Dutchtown still working toward flood buyouts

Sunday, October 9, 2011
James Dunn stands Wednesday inside his home that sits just feet from Horseshoe Lake near Olive Branch, Ill. Dunn and his wife moved into their home seven months before spring flooding filled it. (Laura Simon)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Seven months before the waters stole almost everything, James Dunn thought he had found the home he would live in for the rest of his life.

He and his wife Shirley had been moving from place to place over their 45 years of marriage, going where the work was. The hunt for steady jobs in construction took him from eastern Missouri to western Kentucky and a few spots in between.

When they saw the small, quaint house in Olive Branch, Ill. -- the one that backed up to the scenic Horseshoe Lake -- they snatched it up.

The house needed work. But it was the kind of work Dunn had been doing all of his life. In the late fall of 2010, Dunn started what he believed would be his last construction project -- fixing up his own home.

"I knew I had to do a lot of work," Dunn said. "I just didn't expect to do it twice."

But that's where Dunn found himself after the rain started falling and refused to subside. In late April, he and his wife were awakened at 2:30 a.m. to find three feet of mucky wet stuff nearly reaching the new kitchen countertops he had just installed.

Now, Dunn is rebuilding -- again.

He's one of 150 households in Olive Branch that have signed up for a flood buyout, one that could possibly relocate him and his neighbors to another part of the Southern Illinois county.

Homeowners on both sides of the Mississippi River are in the same boat. Olive Branch and Dutchtown, both ravaged by floodwaters this spring, are in holding patterns -- interested in flood buyouts, still waiting on word from the state agencies that help to make it happen.

In Olive Branch, 150 homeowners sent in a buyout application about a week ago, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. The agency is reviewing the application for $9 million to purchase the homes.

The agency intends to check for environmental impact, to make sure the homes were as damaged as the application claims and will oversee a cost-benefit analysis on the proposed buyout, she said.

Those actions will take them a couple of months and they hope to be able to forward the application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency by the end of the year, Thompson said.

The process from start to finish, Thompson said, usually takes about a year from the date of the public hearings, which first started taking place in July.

Dutchtown is no stranger to flooding, either. There, 16 property owners have signed up to participate in a $1.3 million buyout, according to Angela Crutsinger, a member of the village board of trustees.

Dutchtown, a community of about 100, is a bit behind Olive Branch. Dutchtown has completed a notice of interest and submitted that to the State Emergency Management Agency.

Dutchtown does intend to fill out a formal application, Crutsinger said. The board is just waiting to hear how many projects the federal government is going to be able to fund. Crutsinger said she was hoping the application process would have begun by now.

The floods of the 1990s and more recently are starting to wear on the residents, she said. Some folks have already moved away, she said. Others seem more reluctant to leave a place they have called home for decades.

"We're all just getting older," she said. "It's been hard on us. Some of us are just through fighting."

Still, she understands that it could be a long process. She's heard it may take as long as two or three years.

Dutchtown submitted its letter of interest Aug. 17, said Sheila Huddleston, SEMA's hazard mitigation officer. Full buyout applications from Missouri have to be turned into FEMA by May 9, she said. That's one year from the day the state was given a disaster designation.

In the meantime, she said, a determination is being made as to whether a buyout would save money when future insurance, emergency responder and repair costs are factored in.

"We have to show a savings over future damages," Huddleston said. "If that happens, then the community can apply."

In Missouri, 10 notices of interest have been sent, mostly from the Branson, Mo., area.

For Huddleston's part, she believes flood buyouts are good things that get homeowners out of floodways and help reduce the overall cost to taxpayers in the long haul.

Since 1993, FEMA has spent more than $2 billion to buy 36,707 properties nationwide, according to published reports. Millions more has gone to those buyouts through the federal Community Development Block Grant program. The money brought an end to more than 3,000 towns and neighborhoods.

In Missouri, more than 4,000 properties have been taken over by local jurisdictions since 1993, Huddleston said.

"Ultimately, it saves money as long as the project meets the benefit-cost analysis," she said. "Future damages are avoided. I think it's been well-received in the communities where it's needed."

One of those communities that has already been through the process is Cape Girardeau, which saw 151 homes damaged by the 1993 and 1995 floods. In 2003, it completed a flood buyout of 97 homes, 18 lots and three commercial buildings.

Most of those homes, 66, were in the Red Star area, but there were also homes in what was known as Smelterville on South Sprigg Street, South Fountain Street, South Kingshighway and Highway 177.

As part of that buyout, the city received more than $2.5 million in state and federal funds for the buyout program. The city acquired the property, and the owners of the remaining homes opted not to participate in the buyout.

City planner Martha Brown helped negotiate some of the sales of those properties. If the buyout hadn't happened, she said, those homes would have continued to flood over the years and continued to create problems for the city.

"Especially in the Red Star area," she said, referring to neighborhoods near Red Star Baptist Church. "There's a couple of empty blocks there that used to be homes that flooded all the time. Even this spring, those homes would have been underwater."

Now, the area that saw the most flooding is mostly vacant, thanks to the buyouts.

"So the floods are not affecting people the way it did when there were houses there," she said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

Dutchtown, MO

Olive Branch, IL

Map of pertinent addresses

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