By JOY BROWN
Findlay this week submitted hundreds of pages of additional information about flooded properties to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is scrutinizing the records to see if the city is complying with the National Flood Insurance Program.
The city is hoping the evidence will sway the agency enough that Findlay will be allowed to apply for the federal Community Rating System, a program that provides flood insurance discounts for policyholders in communities that exceed minimum flood insurance standards.
But at this point, FEMA is questioning whether the city even meets the minimum standards. In an April letter, FEMA warned that if the city doesn’t resolve 112 potential violations and permitting issues, Findlay could be placed on flood insurance program probation.
Probation status could result in an annual $50 additional charge to each flood insurance premium.
Mayor Lydia Mihalik said city administrators hope to receive a preliminary response from FEMA Region V officials in September.
The properties the agency is primarily concerned with include three additions of the Hunters Creek subdivision that were removed from a special flood hazard area in the 1990s, before they were developed; several homes that received substantial damage during floods; and flooded properties that were repaired without receiving permits from the city.
Mihalik and her family live in a Hunters Creek home built in the 9th Addition, which the agency is scrutinizing. She said they bought the newly-built house in 2006, prior to the agency expressing flood concerns about the land. Mihalik said her basement flooded, like many others in that area, in August 2007.
Mihalik said the city is doing what it can to comply with FEMA’s request for more information about the subdivision, such as soil compaction test results and sanitary sewer construction.
In its response to the agency this week, the city said the Environmental Protection Agency approved the sanitary sewer design and construction at Hunters Creek.
The city’s response also discussed the land that was removed from the special flood hazard area. Todd Richard, Findlay’s flood plain administrator, said recent engineering work shows the Hunters Creek 9th Addition “would not have been in the special flood hazard area and only a few of the lots in the 10th Addition would have been. It is reasonable to conclude that no corrective action is required for any lot that should not have been in the special flood hazard area.”
Mihalik said she primarily blames “permit dodgers” for the city’s defensive position with FEMA. Their purposeful avoidance of needed permits and city regulations concerning flood repairs could ultimately place Findlay’s flood insurance enrollment in jeopardy, she said.
“We have a larger group of individuals who play by the rules and a handful that have a difficult time doing that. Rest assured, we are doing everything we can to communicate (to FEMA) the steps we have taken to bring those properties into compliance,” Mihalik said.
“There are several properties from the flood of 2007 that we are still trying to bring into compliance,” she said. Actions such as water service shutoffs have been taken.
On Thursday, officials said they executed a search warrant at 102 Smith St., a place that has “refused to provide the necessary permitting information to Todd Richard so that we can properly document what actually happened there with the December 2013 flood,” the mayor said. The owners are still in the midst of making repairs, she said.
Attempts to notify the public about needed permits and flood insurance program rules were, in some cases, ineffective or ignored, the city’s response said. Richard detailed those efforts in the information provided to FEMA this week.
“Some properties were visited up to four times before the owner would respond to our request of submitting damage estimates,” Richard told the agency. “Avoidance seemed to be a majority of the public’s reaction to the outreach effort. In many cases, repairs were started or completed before a substantial damage determination could be made and a permit could be issued. Settled (insurance) claims allowed repairs to commence without the obligation of the insured to first obtain a permit.”
“… There was a lack of integrity and accuracy in some of the (damage) estimates,” Richard also wrote. “To counter this issue, the last code update included a section regarding ‘falsification,’ which carries a very severe penalty — first-degree misdemeanor.”
Richard also said it was at times impossible to keep track of every repair and improvement the flood insurance program mandates, because of more flooding occurring before repairs were completed, service groups voluntarily fixing homes throughout the community, and insurance adjusters cutting checks to people who spent the money without acquiring the required permits.
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