An Outpouring Of Opportunities

Since that initial project, the county park district has completed two more, including the removal of one private residence and one large (21,132-square-foot) commercial property that served as administrative and treatment offices for foster children, generating additional grants of more than $1.75 million. The 2.16 acres of flood plain that have been restored to green space are now owned by the park district, and can be used for future recreational purposes, such as walking and bicycling trails, so long as the flood plain is not compromised. Another grant to remove multiple private residences from near a flood-prone stream next to a city park has the potential to yield more than 2.5 acres to the park district.

Funds for the HMGP come from the federal government, and are administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and passed through to its state counterparts. In Ohio, the park district works with staff from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA) that provides invaluable assistance in writing the grants and determining cost-benefit analyses for each parcel.

Getting Started

The first requirement to participate in the HMGP is to adopt local or countywide FEMA-approved mitigation plans; states must also have FEMA-approvedStandardState Mitigation Plans. Both agencies outline priorities and possible solutions, including identification of flood-prone areas that might benefit from removal of structures from flood plains. Laws adopted since 1970 limit the construction of properties in flood-prone areas, but many structures built before that time remain. As roadways and commercial and residential structures “grow” upstream, properties downstream suffer more frequent flooding. The NFIP was developed in response to such suffering, and buyouts from the federal HMGP may be an owner’s only recourse.

If your particular area has suffered from repeated flooding, and if affected properties are near one of your parks, trails, or other public lands, now is a good time to contact the county or municipal Emergency Management Agency or Flood Plain Coordinator to see if the required hazard mitigation plans have been adopted locally and statewide. Together you can determine high-risk properties whose owners might want to move out of the flood plain. State legislators can sometimes pinpoint potential properties as well, since homeowners who have suffered repeated flooding will complain—repeatedly—begging the state “to do something” to help. Assisting in alleviating those calls can earn the officials’ gratitude, as well as the homeowner’s. The state legislator might even be willing to call the required public meeting to discuss possible participation in the voluntary grant program, which is critical to determine which landowners might be willing to consider a buyout and which are not interested.

Although the program creates goodwill in the community, it is not a “cash cow.” The majority of funds are given to the homeowner, and other funds are spent for appraisals, environmental inspections, asbestos removal, closing costs, demolition, grading, seeding, and

Photo Courtesy Of Stark County Park District

Photo Courtesy Of Stark County Park District

possible hydrology studies. All or a portion of the staff costs related to overseeing the project may be eligible for reimbursement, or may be used as matching funds. These efforts will generate goodwill, prevent the deterioration of neighborhoods, preserve flood plains, and generate maintenance responsibilities for the new property. Without the program, however, the community will have less parkland to develop, less green space for wildlife habitat, and continued flooding.

To realize the goodwill benefits from such an undertaking, it is important to have a project manager with good customer-service and communication skills. Families participating in this program must understand that the program is voluntary and they must be kept apprised of contractors who will visit their homes, even before they decide to participate. Some may be disappointed in the decreased value of their property; if this happens, the grant allows them to obtain a second appraisal at their own expense.

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