The Fremont County Board of Supervisors questioned how soon they must commit to FEMA buyouts at their Oct. 30 meeting.
Over the previous week the supervisors had held a series of special meetings with property owners interested in FEMA buyouts, and as of the day of this meeting, 23 people were interested in the possibility. The supervisors had removed a few names from the list, either due to not qualifying or disinterest of the owner, and had one more meeting to be held with a property owner before their buyout list was complete.
Supervisor Terry Graham asked the other supervisors if they had any suggestions for alternatives to a buyout, saying as far as he was concerned they were the worst case scenario for the county and its residents. The other supervisors agreed but didn’t have any suggestions at the time. Deputy Fremont County Attorney Tyler Loontjer questioned whether the DNR might be interested in purchasing any of the flooded properties.
Graham asked Loontjer how soon the county must make a decision on FEMA buyouts. Loontjer explained there was no real rush but the process itself would take a long time, with environmental studies and assessments/appraisals likely taking until the end of this year, the state reviewing the proposed buyouts for another month or so, and FEMA reviewing the proposal for another two to four months. Additionally, he explained, the county needs to make some decision on potential buyouts before they can seek flood recovery fund monies for the county’s 15 percent match in the buyout cost. The amount that may be put back in the Iowa Flood Recovery Fund is limited, with much competition. With an estimated county match of about $450,000, there is no way the county can afford to pay for buyouts without that assistance.
Supervisor Dustin Sheldon agreed FEMA buyouts were the least palatable option, but stressed, “several of the people on this list [of potential buyout properties] can’t move on without our assistance.”
“We have a moral obligation to help our people,” he added, “and, really, what incentive do they have to try to stay here if we don’t help when they need it?”
Loontjer provided the supervisors with a draft contract to have Southwest Iowa Planning Council (SWIPCO) handle the administrative part of FEMA buyouts. Loontjer said this was essentially the same contract as was used in Mills County and that SWIPCO had handled these same duties after 2011 flooding.
Graham pointed out the supervisors also needed to focus on replacement of the 109 properties/residences lost in this year’s flooding. This number includes those in Hamburg and the unincorporated area of the county, and residential as well as rental properties. Hamburg is already looking into a housing project, and it was suggested the county do the same and determine possible costs of acquisition, and construction or rehabilitation to provide replacement housing. Loontjer suggested this was another project that would benefit from SWIPCO assistance.
Dan Davis asked for and received the supervisors’ approval to sign a contract with HGM Associates for engineering services for the road J-10 emergency repairs. That contract is not to exceed $25,250. Davis said repairs would likely include asphalt patches and pavement repair for now as these are just temporary fixes. The supervisors approved a resolution to add these emergency repairs to the county’s five year road plan. The supervisors also approved payment of $21,155.62 to HGM Associates for design work done on the bridge replacement on 310th road. This money will come from Farm to Market funds.
Finally, Davis requested and received approval to pay HGM Associates $2,134.64 for their engineering services performed so the county could get NEPA assistance on the Manti Road bridge. This project was bundled with a Mills County project as part of a competitive bidding process, and Davis said time would tell if bundling projects like this actually results in construction and engineering services cost savings.
County farm lease bids were opened, with only two having bid on the lease. Nick Golden bid $225 per acre on the 141.27 FSA cropland acres, and current lessor, Jared Moyer bid $250 per acre. The supervisors approved accepting the high bid of Moyer.
In other business, the supervisors held a closed session for union negotiations; approved leaving the evacuation order in place as nothing has changed, and approved having Graham continue to seek alternatives to FEMA buyouts.