Fort Smith applies for FEMA grant to buy homes in flood plain


FORT SMITH — City managers have agreed to submit a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to help purchase and remove 12 homes in the city’s floodplain.

The resolution was approved by a 6-1 vote on Tuesday, with directors Jarred Rego, Andre Good, Lavon Morton, Robyn Dawson, Kevin Settle and Neal Martin voting in favour. Director George Catsavis voted against the nomination.

City Administrator Carl Geffken noted in a memo to the board that the primary way to deal with flooding on the city’s north side is to build large and expensive infrastructure that can handle millions of gallons of flooding. water or to remove the houses from the area and return the land to green space. .

Geffken said Tracee McKenna and Ashley Garris of the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District completed the grant application for the city. They met with 10 residents who are willing to consider selling 10 homes and two rental properties. He said if the city gets the grant, the planning district would work with the owners and help them through the sale process. Homeowners are not required to sell their home and can choose to retain ownership at any point in the process.

“They had their homes appraised for market value without flooding,” Geffken said.

McKenna said the city currently has between 250 and 300 properties in the floodplain, which would be too big a project to accomplish at one time.

Geffken said if the grant is awarded, the cost will be split 90-10, with FEMA paying $1.96 million and the city $196,000. He said the city’s engineering department is already budgeting $250,000 a year to buy homes in the floodplain, which will go toward the city’s share of the grant.

McKenna said the planning district expects to get FEMA approval in the fall, with the city having three years to use the money. She said several properties are in the same block, which will eventually provide a nice green space for the city and go a long way towards flood mitigation efforts.

“It’s not a situation where we have to go in and immediately buy all the houses at once and tear them down,” she said. “As I have discussed with the owners, as far as possible, we will respect their timetable and schedule.”

General Manager Kevin Settle asked if the properties should be demolished or if the city could move or strip houses to make a profit by buying other properties.

Geffken said that if the owners wanted to move, the grant money could be allocated.

McKenna said the owners haven’t made that decision yet.

“I just didn’t want to put anyone in the position of making this decision at this time, when there are still so many unknowns. I tried to be very, very sensitive to the owners’ needs. , because it’s a very sensitive issue for them,” she said.

Geffken said once this project is complete, the city can show FEMA that this is a viable program in order to receive more grants to remove other properties in the floodplain.

Mayor George McGill asked if the city should wait until this project is complete before asking for additional funds.

McKenna said she doesn’t think so and the planning district is always notified through the state Department of Emergency Management when opportunities arise.

Flood waters are seen Friday, June 10, 2022, near a construction site at Fort Smith Park in Fort Smith. The city’s board of directors recently submitted a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to acquire properties in the floodplain on the north side of the city. Visit nwaonline.com/220612Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Photo A flooded basketball court is seen Friday, June 10, 2022, near a construction site at Fort Smith Park in Fort Smith. The city’s board of directors recently submitted a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to acquire properties in the floodplain on the north side of the city. Visit nwaonline.com/220612Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Photo Flood waters are seen Friday, June 10, 2022, near a construction site at Fort Smith Park in Fort Smith. The city’s board of directors recently submitted a grant to the Federal Emergency Management Administration to acquire properties in the floodplain on the north side of the city. Visit nwaonline.com/220612Daily/ for today’s photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
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