Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
New Boston Village Administrator Steve Hamilton met with AMEC engineers last week to discuss their progress to certify the village flood defense systems. Hamilton said engineers report that work is nearly complete, and he expects to deliver the certification to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) before the end of the year. Local residents can now breath a sigh of relief, hoping now to avoid higher flood insurance rates.
“We’re all done, except I can’t finish my operations manual until I get all my stuff back from them — all their reports on their drilling and stuff. But I was talking to Wade Turner from AMEC, and they said we have passed our certification,” Hamilton said.
FEMA announced the new certification requirement in 2010 to cities and communities across the United States. The agency warned that while this was not a mandate, FEMA would de-accredit any community’s floodwall that has not met the requirements before the deadline of April 2011. The result of de-accreditation would have meant that citizens in those communities would have to have purchases their own flood insurance for much higher rates.
Initially, because the village of New Boston and the city of Portsmouth floodwalls are connected, both communities were warned that if either one failed to pass FEMA inspection, both will be de-accredited. That has since changed, Hamilton said, and now either community can be accredited or de-accredited individually.
Neither New Boston nor Portsmouth completed their repairs before the FEMA deadline in April 2011. The de-accreditation process was started for the village in February of this year. Some mortgage-lenders immediately began requiring homeowners to purchase increased policies to protect their investments.
“When FEMA did their re-mapping on April 18, 2011, they changed some of the zoning up through Lakeshore Drive and Lakeview Avenue, up to York Street — they changed some of that to floodways instead of floodplains. I talked to a lot of banks that had mortgages on these houses, and I told them we were getting certified, but it was mostly these out-of-state mortgage companies that hit some of the people with raising their flood insurance because the maps changed,” Hamilton said.
He pointed to one situation where a New Boston resident, Ruth Bowling on York Street, was paying more for insurance than her neighbor, because some mortgage-lenders had already required increased rates. Bowling, who is a widow living on a tightly fixed-income, said her rates have already gone up $100.
“I had like 50-some-thousand on the house, which is more than what I owed on it, then I had 150 on homeowners. And then I had to bring my flood insurance up to about what my homeowner’s (insurance) was,” she said. “It is hard. Ten dollars is $10, and $100 is $100. Lowering it really would help.”
Bowling lives near the new school site, and like many in those neighborhoods — which have historically been prone to flooding — she worries that the new school will displace floodwater and cause increased flooding in the area. The school has installed retention and detention ponds around the building to collect displaced water so it should not flood. But many local residents are concerned it might not work as well as expected.
Bowling said the insurance rate dropping again will help her a lot, but she’s more satisfied knowing that the village has a certified flood defense system that will protect the community from flooding to begin with.
Hamilton said overall, FEMA was pleased with the condition of their floodwall — which is about 60 years old.
“The Flood Defense Supervisor, Mr. Don Winters, and the guys before him, they did a real good job of the upkeep and stuff. For the walls being that old, they was going in thinking there might be some under-seepage, but when they sound tested the walls, ours was one of the strongest,” Hamilton said.
Because FEMA insisted the new regulations were not a mandate, there was no state or federal funding to support the project. However, if the communities didn’t follow through, it would be the citizens that paid the price with increased flood insurance rates. To protect its residents from that outcome, the village secured a $400,000 line of credit at U.S. Bank, and awarded the job to AMEC Engineering, from Cincinnati. The village finished the project for only $300,000.
Now engineers are nearly complete, Hamilton said. He expects they will deliver their final report soon and then Hamilton will complete the revised flood station operations manual. After that, Hamilton can deliver AMEC’s certification to FEMA and avoid de-accreditation.
“AMEC will put their seal on it, and FEMA will put it in their records that, yes, we have a certified levee system in New Boston,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said he expects to have the certification delivered to FEMA before the end of the year.
Portsmouth Wastewater Director Richard Duncan said he expected the city would also avoid de-accreditation, and said the city had a second-opinion study by AMEC that produced significantly better results than the first study commissioned by Howerton Engineering. He said the city does expect to meet with both AMEC and Howerton before the end of the year to have their certification complete as well.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or email@example.com.