Members of the Winneshiek County Board of Supervisors aren't certain participation in the emergency National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) would be best for residents of unincorporated areas of the county.
During a public hearing Monday, supervisors heard concerns about the impact joining the emergency NFIP would have on all rural residents, not just those living near water.
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.
"If you're improving land and want to build a fence, or want to clear out trees or tear out a building, this is going to put a lot of restrictions on you. I don't know how you are even going to enforce it," Jon Lubke, county geographic information systems/information technology coordinator, said. "Right now, you can tear out an old fence and put a new one in."
Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has not mapped the flood hazards of the unincorporated areas of the county, Winneshiek County is only eligible for the emergency insurance program, County Flood Plain and Zoning Administrator Tony Phillips explained. He said FEMA currently is out of funds to continue mapping.
"I have no idea when FEMA will start mapping again," he said.
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.
"Nobody offers private flood insurance," Phillips said.
When a community chooses to join the NFIP, it must require permits for all development and ensure construction materials and methods used will minimize future flood damage, that could include removing and replacing a fence, Phillips said.
The emergency program does not exempt permit requirements with regard to the proximity of a body of water. Agricultural buildings, structures and development are not exempt from these requirements, however, most cropping activities are, he said.
"In order to provide some citizens with the ability to have flood insurance, you have to have regulations on all," Phillips said of the emergency program.
Supervisors asked Phillips if other counties in the area participate in the NFIP.
Most of the counties are already in the non-emergency program, he said. Since FEMA stopped mapping, the emergency program is the only one available to the county at the current time.
Under the emergency program, coverage is limited to $35,000 for single and two-to-four family residential dwellings and $10,000 for contents.
Supervisor Lonnie Pierce asked Phillips if he'd been contacted by anyone who feels the county not participating in the insurance program creates a "hardship" for them, and Phillips said he's only been contacted by a local realtor, who has had questions about the program.
"It would be interesting to have a five-county discussion on it," Board of Supervisors Chairman Les Askelson said. County officials from the five-counties in Northeast Iowa meet regularly to discuss issues they have in common.
"They (FEMA) are almost making the rules as they go, with the mapping not there. I don't see anyone knocking on our doors to pass this. It's a lot of regulations," Askelson said.
Schedule a reading
After a public hearing on a proposed ordinance, the supervisors hold three readings before considering it for adoption. At Askelson's suggestion, the Board scheduled the first reading of the flood insurance ordinance for Monday, Dec. 10, at 11 a.m.
"We need some time on this to see what our neighboring counties are doing. We need to learn more," Askelson said.
He said Phillips was asked to research the program because the supervisors had been led to believe if the county doesn't participate in the NFIP it wouldn't be eligible for FEMA funds if there were a disaster.
However, they've learned that's only the case once FEMA has mapped the flood hazard areas.
Protect flood plain
Marv Cooper of Decorah asked if the flood insurance program is meant to protect the flood plain.
"It limits the development that can be done in the flood plain," said Phillips, adding that development must meet requirements and be planned by a certified engineer.
"Am I wrong in thinking nobody should build in a flood plain? It really upset me when Walmart built in the flood plain and said 'We'll fill it in.' It's still a flood plain and it endangers everything in the river. I'm for anything that protects the flood plain," Cooper said.