Winneshiek County will not pursue the emergency National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) at this time.
The Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to hold the first reading of a proposed flood plain ordinance Monday morning, but the reading was postponed when the supervisors reached consensus the program was not a good idea.
Three readings are required before an ordinance can be considered for adoption. The supervisors said a future Board may choose to revisit the issue. Four new supervisors, elected in November, will take office on the five-member Board in January.
The supervisors held a public hearing on emergency NFIP in September, but after hearing concerns about the impact joining the program would have, the Board decided to delay action until more research could be gathered.
During Monday's Board meeting, County Flood Plain and Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips was asked his opinion and to report on his research.
"I do not like it," he said. "The emergency program is not based on a map - it's based on past experience and knowledge of the area ... it's kind of subjective," Phillips said.
All property affected
Board of Supervisors Chairman Les Askelson said if the emergency program were adopted, it would put restrictions on what all landowners can do on their property.
When a community chooses to join the NFIP, it must require permits for all development and ensure that construction materials and methods used will minimize future flood damage. The emergency program does not exempt permit requirements with regard to the proximity of a body of water.
"The biggest thing is everybody, no matter where you live, will need to apply for a flood plain permit. Even if you live on the highest hill," Phillips said.
Only a small amount of insurance is available through the emergency program, he added.
Under the emergency program, coverage is limited to $35,000 for single and two-to-four family residential dwellings and $10,000 for contents.
If the county participated in the regular or non-emergency NFIP, only those areas mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as flood hazards would be subject to the requirements of the NFIP. But under the emergency program, all the unincorporated areas of the county would be required to adhere to the requirements.
Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not mapped the flood hazards of the unincorporated areas of the county, Winneshiek County currently is only eligible for the emergency NFIP. Phillips said at this time, FEMA doesn't have the funds to continue mapping.
He reported Winneshiek County is the only county of the five Northeast Iowa counties that does not have a FEMA flood hazard map.
Winneshiek County Auditor Ben Steines said county officials thought the FEMA mapping would have been completed by now. Phillips commented FEMA is dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, the hurricane that devastated the Northeastern part of the country in October. He said the process also was delayed due to the recertification of Decorah's levies.
The supervisors asked Phillips if any residents have been requesting the county participate in the program in order to purchase flood insurance. He said he received "zero comments" before the public hearing in September and a local realtor is the only person who has inquired about it recently.
Following the floods of 2008, the supervisors heard from some affected residents who were interested in pursuing the NFIP to be able to purchase flood insurance since private flood insurance is not available.
On Dec. 7, the supervisors received a letter from several county residents opposed to the emergency program.
"It is evident that the ordinance severely overreaches the intended authority of controlling the flood plain and instead puts unnecessary burdens, like acquiring local permits and following federal rules and regulations, on all rural landowners, despite where their property is located," the letter stated. It was signed by Jon Lubke, Kimberly Lubke, John Lubke, Joan Lubke, John Olds, Gordon Hunter and Paul Hunter.
"Since technically, Winneshiek County does not have an approved flood plain boundary or digital flood insurance rate map, the proposed ordinance would have jurisdiction over the entire county's unincorporated areas. The county may also forfeit local control and be forced into following federal guidelines. The proposed ordinance also severely limits what rural landowners outside the flood plain can do to maintain or improve their property, specifically moving earthen material, planting or removing trees, building fences and other minor structures," the letter continued.
"We also see an increased burden to the taxpayers if the ordinance was to be enacted and enforced. We have doubts that it can even be enforced properly without hiring additional staff and adding extra record keeping measures."
The letter writers asked the supervisors that NFIP not be addressed again until an official flood plain boundary is designated for the county.