Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 28, 2013

Flood-prone homes under scrutiny

After 2003 flood there were 151 such properties still standing.

By Scott Smith
Tribune staff writer

— On summer nights, Matt and Heather Pagan can sit out on the back porch of their Park Avenue home and listen to the summer concert series at Foster Park, which lies just on the other side of the Wildcat Creek.

“It’s just a perfect little spot,” Matt said. “We have probably one of the biggest backyards you can have in the city. We’re near just about everything.”

April 19, the Pagan’s wood-framed home was inundated by floodwaters, as the Wildcat rose to a record height.

Now, like others living in the flood-prone areas of Kokomo, Pagan doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stay.

Across Park Avenue, Heather Donnelly was loading possessions into the back of a pickup truck, moving things into storage as she, her boyfriend and her children are staying with relatives. Their rental is uninhabitable, she said.

With moving a likelihood, Donnelly is in a quandary. The three-bedroom rental on Park was roomy and economical.

“It took us a while to find this place,” she said. “To find something the size we need, it’s $600-plus, and we can’t pay $600-plus.”

The last time the city did a survey, which was after the 2003 flood, there were 151 homes — including rental properties — still standing in flood-prone areas throughout the city.

They’re mostly concentrated along the Wildcat: along Park Avenue, in the river bottom area east along South Union Street, and out near Waterworks Park at Carter and Elizabeth streets.

Eight years ago, the city estimated they’d need $6.8 million to purchase and tear down all of those properties.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency grant helped the city tear down seven or eight homes in 2005, and before that, another FEMA grant allowed the city to remove 11 homes in 1999-2000.

And this year, Howard County officials are using state and federal grants to tear down 10 flood-damaged homes along the Wildcat east of Kokomo.

But it took the county 10 years to complete that process, and local officials know it’s a long slog to arrange more flood-mitigation funding.

This past week, Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight said the city is looking at different options for dealing with the problem.

“The ultimate goal is to create a long-term control plan and mitigate what’s in the floodway,” Goodnight said.

In the months ahead, city officials will work on that process, aided by an engineering study commissioned late last year which helped better define the flood-prone areas.

The city has removed two dams from the Wildcat in recent years, improving stream flow. But to get Park Avenue to keep from flooding, the city will likely need to increase water storage in some other area.

How the city will manage that task has yet to be determined.

“We’re in the process of evaluating that,” Goodnight said. “Obviously we need to increase capacity in and around the creek area, so when [floodwaters] come up, fewer people are impacted.”

The remaining homes in the Carter/Murden street area are what’s left after the city purchased and demolished homes there in 1999-2000 and in 2005. It’s the most flood-prone area in the entire city.

When the city was doing flood-mitigation demolitions there in 2005, city officials said some of the homes had been flooded five times in the previous seven years.

Even if the city isn’t yet ready to purchase more of the homes in that area, it’s likely some of the remaining residents will have to move.

Brian Cook, a member of Grace United Methodist Church, was out Friday lending a hand to flood victims. Cook said many of the Carter/Murden residents are struggling to get by, day to day.

“Most of the people there are just renting, and some of their homes have been condemned. They’re trying to find places to live, and that’s a big crunch on the system right now,” Cook said.

Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at scott.smith@kokomotribune.com

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