Douglas County Commission to discuss buying out properties in flood-prone areas

photo by: Douglas County Public Works

Flooding is pictured at Route 1 into Lone Star, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.

Updated at 10:23 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 4

There may be more Douglas County residents living in flood-prone areas than once thought, and the county’s leaders will soon consider whether to buy some of those residents’ homes to allow them to move to safer areas.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday will discuss the possibility of buying out properties or changing floodplain maps in flood-prone areas around Washington Creek, Coal Creek and Little Wakarusa Creek, according to its meeting agenda.

Tonya Voigt, the county zoning director, said in a memo to the commissioners that the county has seen flooding in those areas that isn’t consistent with its floodplain maps. At the same time, the county has also seen an increase of residential development in those areas.

Voigt said the floodplain maps have not been updated since the 1990s, which creates concerns that residential development may occur in areas that are prone to flooding.

She recently told the commissioners her office has reached out to the Kansas Division of Water Resources to update the maps, but the updating process will likely take two years. When the commissioners approved a temporary moratorium on processing applications to subdivide land in rural parts of the county last month, Voigt asked the commissioners to also consider the uncertainty of the floodplain maps as a reason to halt residential development.

“We don’t have accurate maps,” Voigt said during the commission’s Aug. 21 meeting. “(The state) has funding available to help us remodel (the maps) so we aren’t issuing building permits that are in flood-prone areas and we aren’t risking people’s lives.”

In the meantime, she has asked the commissioners to consider having county staff apply for federal funding to buy out residential property in those areas.

In the memo, Voigt said recent flooding events allow the county to apply for the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to remove flooded or flood-prone structures. The program offers federal funding to cover 75% of a property’s fair market value and project costs, such as required asbestos inspections.

“If the county chooses to pursue one or more buyout applications,” the memo states, “we would need to determine the source for the 25% match. The match may include in kind services, an acceptance of lower purchase price by the owner, or contributions to the project by the county commission.”

Chad Voigt, the deputy public works director who is also related to Tonya Voigt, told the Journal-World that the federal funding is “very limited” and is only applicable to homes within a regulated 100-year floodplain. Additionally, homes that have suffered repeated flooding events — which includes “a handful” of properties near Washington Creek — are more likely to be selected for federal funding, he said.

“These will be the focus of our discussion,” Chad Voigt said.

The county would have to submit applications for buyouts to the Kansas Division of Emergency Management by Oct. 24. If approved by the Kansas office, the applications would be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in April 2020.

In other business, the commissioners will:

• Consider approving a $1.2 million contract with Hamm Inc. for road improvement projects on portions of Route 1029 and Route 438.

• Consider approving a $537,000 contract with King’s Construction Co. for a road improvement project on East 1750 Road, also known as North First Street in Baldwin City.

The commission will meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Full agendas are available online at douglascountyks.org.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct a misstatement about the 25% match.

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