Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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January 17, 2013

County moves on flood-prone homes

Demolition bids are due next month.

It’s been 10 years coming, but the flood-damaged, vacant homes in the Hillcrest and Hillsdale subdivision are finally slated for demolition.

Requests for bids on the nine properties went out last week, and this spring could see the end of a saga which saw homes lost to repeated flooding, in areas planning officials now concede was never suitable for building.

Most of the homes were built more than 30 years ago, well before the U.S. Geological Survey began identifying floodplain boundaries through flood insurance rate maps.

But even in 1967, maps were on file at the Kokomo/Howard Plan Commission office showing clearly that homebuilding sites in the two subdivisions were within flood areas.

For whatever reason, builders Lewis and Leroy Colter were allowed to construct homes on the sites, a county decision which required $2 million in state and federal government spending to rectify.

“Personally, I think nobody bothered to check the map [before the subdivisions were approved],” then-plan commission director Glen Boise said in 2003, the year the process to remove the homes began.

Current plan commission director Greg Sheline agreed the homes shouldn’t have been built, and said much of the delay in getting the houses purchased from the former owners and demolished lay in the difficult process of getting the state and federal governments to pay for the demolition.

In 2003, Boise had identified 13 homes in the county which were subject to repeated flooding due to construction in the flood plain. His original plan was to match federal grant funding with a local match.

But the local match was estimated at around $600,000, and Boise said last week that county officials didn’t consider the purchase and demolition of the properties a funding priority.

In the meantime, the owners were largely forced to either stay put or abandon the homes. Then several years back, county officials began pursuing state grants to cover the match.

“When I took over, we just had a huge problem with the match from the state,” Sheline said. “I couldn’t tell you how many letters and emails I’ve sent back and forth. Every time you thought you had everything they wanted, they’d tell you they needed something else.”

Using county money as a match, county officials did manage to take down three of the homes on the original list, Boise said.

The remaining 10 homes remained stuck in limbo until now. Sheline said one of the homeowners decided not to participate in the program, leaving nine homes to be demolished.

Demolition bids are due Feb. 4, and all of the former owners are now out of the homes, Sheline said. He said it’s unfortunate that the homes were built in the floodplain.

“We certainly didn’t have the tools back then,” Sheline said. “If we could have pinpointed the flood areas back then like we can do in todays world, this wouldn’t happen. And if we keep our flood maps updated, we’ll hopefully never have a situation like that again.”

Back in 2003, Leroy Colter blamed the plan commission for allowing the flood-prone homes to be built, and pointed at other areas of Kokomo — such as the Carter/Murden area behind Central Middle School — where homes were built in flood zones.

“As far as I know, we abided by all of the rules they gave us,” he said in the 2003 interview.

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

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