Hill action may help cities with floodwalls

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Amendment requires FEMA to help find funding

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

PERRY COUNTY – Difficulties in getting funding for the accreditation of flood-protection systems in Tell City and Cannelton may be alleviated through an amendment Rep. Baron Hill attached to legislation extending the National Flood Insurance Program.

"This amendment directly addresses concerns I heard from local leaders and southern Indiana residents regarding the Flood Insurance Program," Hill said in a July 15 news release. "Particularly in places like Tell City and Cannelton, they are concerned with the real and costly possibility of being placed in a high-risk flood zone because they are having trouble obtaining their certifications."

Issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in response to levee failures during 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the accreditation mandate "adds more expenses to our already cash-strapped local governments," Hill noted.

Cannelton's sewer-department superintendent and floodwall custodian, Jerry Ball, said when he told that city's common council about the requirement in early 2009 that failure to obtain the certification would force property owners to buy flood insurance.

"If a levee shows adequate protection," Hill's news release explained, "FEMA places it in a moderate-risk zone, and property owners are not required to carry flood insurance."

Among other things, the legislation Hill amended, House Resolution 5114, establishes an Office of flood Insurance Advocate within FEMA. The amendment calls on that office to "identify ways to assist communities in their efforts to fund the accreditation of flood-protection systems," according to Hill's release.

Tell City Mayor Barbara Ewing explained Tuesday a floodwall committee meets regularly to ensure that city's portion of the structure complies with regulations, and "certification takes it to another level."

While certification "is very important from an insurance standpoint," the mayor said, she noted that Hill had previously made unsuccessful attempts at getting appropriations for the unfunded federal mandate. She said she hopes his amendment "will bring a level of awareness to struggles cities such as Tell City and Cannelton face."

Ewing feels responsibilities such as maintaining the floodwall lie within individual communities, but said, "I hope assistance to meet the mandate will come from FEMA."

Cannelton Mayor Smokey Graves said Friday he was "tickled to death" upon receiving news about the passage of the bill with Hill's amendment. In his view, FEMA "put an unreasonable mandate out there, and needs to be assisting communities" in complying with it.

Cannelton's sewer-department superintendent and floodwall custodian, Jerry Ball, reported in February 2009 that FEMA was requiring flood-protection systems such as the floodwall and levees here to be accredited within two years.

The News reported last April that Graves couldn't understand the difference between a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers "500-year inspection," conducted this year at the Corps' expense, and the FEMA-mandated accreditation.

"What more are they going to do?" he asked. "Are they going to change personnel to come down and do this? Is it the second shift? ... we've got federal employees coming in here on federal time, doing what they get federally paid to do. They've got to come back here at $200,000 in less than a year to do the same thing, at expense to this city? ... I don't know how much more these guys can inspect to make that any safer. And if they're not doing it right the first time, why the hell are they here?"

Both mayors expressed appreciation for Hill's assistance, even if, Graves said, it "doesn't put any money into the city's hands."

"I can't say enough about Baron Hill jumping on this and making something happen," he said Friday.