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Working to fix " and fund " Taylorsville's flooding problems

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By Robin Bass

After living for more than 20 years at the end of Houston Court in Taylorsville, Larry Waldridge has learned what to expect when the weather takes a turn for the worse.

“When they start calling for two inches of rain, I start wondering what it’s going to do this time,” he said.

Since his home was built in 1986, Waldridge has replaced the carpet three times and his HVAC unit once because of flood waters. On the many occasions when the waters rose – but were not high enough to cross his threshold – the water still swept through the crawl space soaking his insulation, floor joists and each time washing away some of the foundation.

“You’re also talking about a health issue,” said Waldridge, referring to the mold that he and other residents fear is hiding under their homes.

Waldridge and his neighbors have pleaded, demanded and sometimes begged for help from the City of Taylorsville. Waldridge even served as a commissioner at one time, but said he still could find no support to remedy the flooding problems that plagued Houston Court.

“All I’ve done is live with this mess since I moved here,” said Waldridge.

Changing expectations

While Waldridge and some of his neighbors assume they will never get relief from flooding, Mayor Don Pay said he’s doing his best to change those expectations.

“These people are fed up,” said Pay. “This is an issue that hasn’t been addressed until now and I think they have kind of lost faith. They just want to see somebody doing something.”

For the past eight or nine months, the mayor has been soliciting every agency and legislator he can think of for money. Pay said he has been working closely with Congressman Brett Guthrie’s office and has reached out to agencies such as KIPDA,  he Governor’s Office for Local Development and Federal Economic Development Administration – searching everywhere for the estimated $400,000 it will take to  repair the drainage issues at the end of Houston Court.

“I’ve basically been walking around with my hat in my hand,” said Pay. “The money is out there. We’ve just got to pull from four or five different pots.”

One of those potential resources for funding is a hazardous mitigation grant through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). To push the process along, Pay has been going door-to-door along Houston Court armed with a pen, a few sheets of paper and a desire to see this issue resolved.

“This (grant) is not going to do anything to help them fix their houses, but it could fix the drainage problem. If  that can be fixed, it’s more than anybody else has done for them,” said Pay.

In order for the city to be approved for the grant, residents must first document all the damages their homes have suffered due to rising waters. The long list of costs that residents are to consider include damage to the home’s structure, contents and outbuildings. They have also been asked to put dollar amounts on repairs, even on repairs that should have been made.

“Every time water gets under my house, you might as well figure it costs me $25,000,” said Waldridge, referring to the water-logged insulation and wood that he has never afforded to replace.

Pay encouraged Waldridge to document every instant of flood damage – with or without receipts – and pay particular attention to the federally-recognized flooding events of 1997, 2000, 2004 and 2008.

“All they can do is estimate how much it has cost them,” said Pay.

Costly fix

While Houston Court flood affects a small group, Taylorsville residents and business owners are facing a much larger issue with the levee that encircles their small town. The problem is that if local officials do not find a way to fund repairs and bring the floodwall up to federal regulations, anyone with a federally-backed loan could be facing mandatory flood insurance premiums triple the current rate.

Pay said last week that of the $400,000 needed to fix the drainage and flooding problems of Houston Court, all but $150,000 has been secured.

To repair and certify the town’s levee, Pay said the price tag is topping out at nearly $1 million, including the estimated $200,000 to $250,000 it will cost to have the floodwall certified.

The remaining $750,000 is needed to repair the flood gates, remove all trees within a 15-foot easement, re-sleeve the corrugated tubes and build a larger pump house to contain the city’s new $60,000 pump.

Pay said the funds secured for repairing the floodwall do not allow money to be spent on routine maintenance or the certification. That leaves a deficit on that project of nearly $550,000.

“It’s going to cost $300,000 just to cut out all the trees,” said Pay.

The high cost is partly because the removal process is complicated by restrictions imposed by the U.S. Division of Water and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. One agency does not allow heavy machinery to be driven over the floodwall, the other doesn’t allow people or machinery to come in contact with water. Another requirement is that any holes left after trees and root balls have been eliminated must be filled and compacted with an approved soil mixture.

Still, with all the complications and red tape he has dealt with, Pay remains optimistic.

“People don’t realize how important the floodwall is until they really need it. It’s the sleeping giant that is protecting this city,” said Pay. “You have to just keep ringing that bell. If things don’t just get solved, you have to keep working at it.”

Better position than most

At a Commonwealth Levee Summit in Frankfort, Pay joined officials from other levee towns facing the same  federally-mandated certification deadline. Out of 24 Kentucky communities, only Paducah and Covington have been certified.

“We are in a better position than most cities,” said Pay.

While local officials are looking for funds to repair one-and-a-half miles of an earthen levee, the city of Sturgis, Ky. has to fix 11 miles.

“I think they are realizing that we’re not going to be certified by then,” said Pay of FEMA and their July certification deadline.

Pay was told not to expect an extension on the deadline, but as long as officials were working toward certification, the federal agency would continue to help where they could.

Pay said he is also getting cooperation from fiscal court. The mayor and Judge Executive David Jenkins were expected to meet about the issue Tuesday.

Worst-case scenerio

If the floodwall is not repaired and certified, then FEMA will rate the levee as not providing any protection. Flood insurance would be a requirement for all homeowners and business owners with federal loans, such as VA, HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and for any loan from a bank that is FDIC.

Terry Skaggs, of Kentucky Farm Bureau Insurance, said that homeowners are not covered by flood insurance as part of their homeowners insurance. The National Flood Insurance Program regulates the flood insurance costs and any policy for flood protection must be written separately.

Skaggs said that since the Katrina hurricane, flood insurance rates have already  jumped by 50 to 100 percent. If the Taylorsville levee was not certified, property owners could see rates triple.

“There’s really no way to say how much it’s going to cost until it gets rated,” said Skaggs. “But it’s definitely going to be a hit to your wallet.”

Skaggs said there are only a few places in Spencer County that are required to have flood insurance, such as the low-lying areas of Plum Creek Road, Elk Creek Rd. and John Henry Road.

FEMA is recommending that all residents and businesses located within a levee purchase flood insurance now, before rates go up.

In addition to insurance requirements, FEMA would also mandate that any new construction inside an un-certified floodwall would  have to be built to certain specifications. Depending on the topography of Taylorsville, new construction would be built at an elevation at or above the 100-year level.

The levee surrounding the city of Taylorsville was originally constructed in 1948 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After a few decades, the USACE relinquished maintenance duties to the Taylorsville Floodwall Commission.