Government

Johnson County Board of Supervisors aims to use flood buyout program

IOWA CITY — With federal funding available after widespread flooding in western Iowa, Johnson County will attempt to acquire and remove homes in four flood-prone areas.

During its work session on Wednesday, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors directed Planning, Development and Sustainability Department staff to file a grant application with the state of Iowa and pursue a contract with the East Central Iowa Council of Governments to allow the department to manage the competitive grant process.

Federal Hazard Mitigation funding has been set aside to help communities acquire and remove flood-prone areas, with the federal government picking up 75 percent of the tab and the state covering an additional 10 percent of costs.

While the county has acquired properties following the 1993 and 2008 floods, what sets this flood buyout program apart is the county would be on the hook for a portion of the costs and the homes are neither vacant nor flood damaged. That presents the opportunity to either relocate them or salvage materials.

“We don’t want to see these properties be demolished and go right to the landfill,” said Josh Busard, director of Planning, Development and Sustainability. “They’re perfectly acceptable structures.”

The buyouts would address a number of needs, said Busard and Dave Wilson, the county’s Emergency Management coordinator. First, removing residents from the flood way will take the pressure off emergency responders who are called to these areas to aid occupants of the flood-affected homes — some of whom in the past haven’t responded to evacuation warnings.

Second, some residents are in areas that would be impacted by higher outflows at the Coralville Lake, preventing the Corps of Engineers from releasing more water from the reservoir during flood events.

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“The goal is to try to reduce the duration and peak flood of any floods,” Wilson said, noting that’s not possible when the Corps of Engineers can increase outflows when homes in an area will see inundation.

Busard’s presentation to the board focused on four areas:

• Tri County Bridge Road and Lola Lane SE near Lone Tree in southeast Johnson County — A river gauge is located nearby which the Corps of Engineers uses to determine outflow from the Coralville Lake.

• River Front Estates NE in Iowa City — Wilson described this area as a “rapid impact area” affected by changes in reservoir outflows within 30 minutes.

• Camino Del Rio, Ocean Boulevard and Driftwood Lane SE south of Iowa City.

• 4295 520th St. SE, one property east of Hills.

Busard said county staff have been soliciting interest from property owners and occupants in the areas since mid-April, and the county hosted a community meeting on the buyout process.

As of June 1, 22 property owners have indicated they’re interested in participating in the voluntary buyout process.

Busard said the cost of obtaining those properties is about $3.25 million. The county would be responsible for about $480,000 of that cost, he added.

Some property owners have turned down the buyout offer, and Busard said the county has not heard back from some of the others property owners. If those property owners reported back that they are interested in a buyout, that would cost an additional $1.25 million, Busard said.

The county’s share would be $187,000.

The contract with the East Central Iowa Council of Governments would be for $63 per hour to manage the grant and oversee acquisition and demolition of homes and that contract would not exceed $190,000.

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Supervisors supported the buyout program, but emphasized a desire to see the homes sustainably removed. Busard also advocated for getting the most out of the structures, rather than demolishing them.

“The cheapest way is to bulldoze and go to the landfill,” he said. “That’s not the way I want to do it. I would never advocate for that.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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