What Portsmouth City Council did at their last meeting was effectively put the city in position to not have funds to cover it’s flood defense system. They accomplished that by voting not to send to electors a renewal of the city’s long-time flood defense levee.
Absent from that meeting was First Ward Councilman Kevin W. Johnson, who was on vacation. Johnson said, as soon as he heard about it, he thought it was the wrong thing to do because the system needs funding, and no member of Council presented for a vote, any alternative. And when the vote was taken, Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows and Sixth Ward Councilman Tom Lowe, voted against the measure, which defeated the ordinance.
“It blew my mind when I read that,” Johnson told the Daily Times. “I was in Florida.”
Johnson said there is no question the city needs to reconsider the measure, so he is planning to bring it up for a vote again.
“We really don’t have a choice,” Johnson said
What about an alternative?
“It’s something that can always be looked at, but it requires a financial analysis, and we’re at the 11th hour,” Johnson said. “We have to have it funded. If someone wishes to come along and, say, in the next year, provide an alternative, we can always introduce that at any time. It’s going to save the citizens money and Council should be looking at all alternatives, but, at the last minute, to simply defeat an item that honestly needs to be on the ballot in November to continue funding the flood defense levee.”
Johnson said he is not alone in his assessment.
“Believe me I have heard from local business people and residents, saying, ‘what in the hell are you doing?’” Johnson said. “I’m saying, ‘I’m sorry. If I had been there, I would have voted for it, but I couldn’t be there.’”
Johnson said, if the city can’t fund the flood defense levee, it will have an even larger effect.
“They’re worried, if we cannot fund that flood defense levee, believe me, the certification would definitely be yanked and people in the flood plain will see their insurance go sky-high,” Johnson said. “That is not the way to run government. people forget, we need to take one step at a time, and step one for us is the passing of that levee. Step two – should people have an alternative, let’s look at it. Let’s discuss it in open public hearings. Not just in one meeting – it’s going to take multiple meetings and needs a good financial analysis, and if it’s a good one – more power.”
Portsmouth City Manager Derek K. Allen said the city is already planning to spend approximately $200,000 to repair some collapsed pipes in the levee system.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) if the levee system is not shown as providing base flood hazard reduction on an effective FIRM, the system is considered to be non-accredited and the levee-impacted area is mapped as Zone AE or Zone A on a FIRM (Flood Insurance Rate Map) following implementation of analysis and mapping procedures depending on approaches and type of study performed for the area.
If the levee system was previously shown as providing base flood protection on an effective FIRM but does not meet PAL (Provisionally Accredited Levee) requirements, FEMA will perform analysis procedures to effectively remove accreditation or “deaccredit” the levee system and will re-map the affected area landward of the levee as an SFHA (Special Flood Hazard Area), labeled Zone AE or Zone A depending on the type of study performed. Flood insurance is required for insurable structures in SFHAs, if they have with federally backed mortgages.
Well-known Portsmouth businessman Sean Boldman spoke on the issue at the last City Council meeting.
“I urge all of you to contact your insurance agents and ask them approximately what the cost of flood insurance would be on your home and what the flood insurance would be for the place you are set up in business in,” Boldman said.
Boldman cited examples from his own experience.
“Over the last three years I have had four residential houses who went bankrupt due to the increase cost of flood insurance….one of my commercial buildings, the flood insurance on it, if the floodwall would be decertified, is in excess of $10,000,” Boldman said. If that occurred, Boldman said it would cause the rent to be increased exponentially.
During the conversation on the issue at that Council meeting, a stormwater fee was discussed, which would make everyone pay, including schools, churches and health care facilities.
The total cost for the levee certification process by the city of Portsmouth was $1,173,673, While the cost for the New Boston portion was $300,000.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.