The City of Rushford, as many in the state, is in the midst of updating its Floodplain Ordinance following revisions to mapping done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). A public hearing on the draft ordinance was held during the Monday, June 24 council meeting. While no public comment was made, the council itself had plenty of discussion with Derek Olinger, of Bolton & Menk, the city’s engineer.
The new ordinance becomes official August 15 and prior to that, the city is working with Bolton & Menk on a plan for the 80 properties within the city that are affected by the mapping changes. These properties will have 45 days from August 15 to secure federal flood insurance if required by their mortgage lender. Properties without mortgages or not directed to obtain the insurance, such as those without a federally-backed mortgage, will have the option whether or not to take the gamble and go without.
The current floodplain district has been replaced with three new districts. While the general intent is mostly unchanged, says Olinger, more details and clarifications have been added, limiting land use in the districts. The General Floodplain District are areas where current level of flood modeling cannot determine flood impacts. The Floodway relates to the primary channel and land use is highly restrictive, citing high impact to water levels during regulatory 100-year flood.
The flood fringe, or interior drainage areas, comprise the remaining portion of the floodplain. According to the DNR, “FEMA and state regulations permit communities to allow the flood fringe to be obstructed and developed if standards (i.e., elevating and floodproofing structures) are met.” These areas were determined, in part, by interior drainage data collected as part of the city’s levee recertification with the Army Corps of Engineers. Parcels in this area that will need to bring structures into compliance. A process addressing these parcels to bring them into compliance and filing a Letter of Map Amendment may lessen the amount of insurance required or remove it all together.
Flood Insurance Rate Maps will be used by mortgage lenders to determine the amount of coverage needed for each parcel. “It’s not cheap. Some of the numbers I’ve seen were upwards of $4,500 a year,” said Olinger. “It’s already expensive, but there’s no reason to not do it. Ultimately, you need to listen to the lender. This is a continual update; a never ending process as they get better data associated with it.”
Several areas were discussed, including the campground/mobile home park, businesses on the southwest portion of the city, the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and homes and one church on the east side of the city by a dry run protected by a levee. Certain elevations pertain to certain areas, but equate to the “magic number” in elevation that must be reached for structures.
Bolton & Menk will conduct a detailed analysis on all 80 parcels and Olinger feels a majority of them can be brought into compliance via various options. He noted a half dozen or so parcels though that will need flood insurance. Regardless, due to timeline, he stressed that all parcels, if directed to by their mortgage lender, should secure flood insurance. If the parcel is later deemed or brought into compliance, insurance rates may be lowered or even reimbursed if no longer needed.
“Get insurance by that day,” said Olinger. “The review is going to take longer. FEMA goes through a lot of effort to make this simple, but it’s just not simple.”
The city is considering the best option for communicating this need to the affected parcels to further stress compliance with the updated mapping and insurance needs. The city is not responsible for “fixing” parcels, but rather the property owner. Surveys of the properties will be needed and there may be options for reducing the cost. The city intends to be proactive on communicating with owners.
“We need to err on the side of over-communicating,” noted Councilor Terri Benson. “We have tried to maintain our levee system to minimize the effects.” The council voted unanimously to approve the draft ordinance.
In other news, the city has learned Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has completed its recent Speed Zone Study and a reduced school speed zone is recommended for areas of Highway 43, west of the school, and additions to areas on Pine Meadows Lane/Eiken Drive in front of the school.
Currently, the speed on Highway 43 is 35 mph north of the Rush Creek Bridge, slowing to 30 mph south of the bridge. It has been recommended that the speed be amended to 25 mph, when children are present, from the intersection of Highway 43 and Watt Street to the south side of the Rush Creek Bridge. The speed along Pine Meadows Lane/Eiken Drive will be 20mph, when children are present.
Initially, it was recommended that the speed reduction by applicable at specific times of the day, but that idea was eventually scrapped. Several new signs will be added to existing signage in the area. Bolton & Menk has requested the signs be in place prior to the start of the next school year. Paperwork was submitted 1-2 weeks ago and it’s been indicated that by MnDOT that signage will take 4-6 weeks.
Word has also been received regarding the Local Trail Connection Grant application. The intention was to connect existing trails in the city via a trail behind residences on Eiken Drive, making for better pedestrian traffic, particularly students walking to the new school. Unfortunately, the city’s application was denied.
“It’s a bummer on this one,” said Olinger. “I honestly thought there was a much better chance with this grant. I felt good about it.” He indicated he’d reached out to the state to try and understand why it wasn’t selected, but there’s been no response yet. However, Olinger noted the program is for more traditional trail systems and that may have been one reason. The city has attempted to secure Safe Routes to School grant funding three times and Local Trail Connection funding three times and been denied every time. In each application, the project was estimated at $260,000, with the city and the school paying $55,000 each.
“Maybe this is our opportunity to really look at is this too small of the project for a grant and should we as a community come up with a long-term plan for doing it ourselves,” said Benson. “Are there other ways that we can slowly connect it to get the kids off the streets?”
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, July 8, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.