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Rushford jumps more hoops

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Apr 18th, 2014
Posted in Rushford Government

Following a lengthy process, several years in the making, to formally certify the levee system, the city has once again found itself at the mercy of FEMA requirements. While the process to recertify the levee is underway, FEMA elevation mapping on the landward side of the levee is now prompting cause for flooding concern in low-lying areas. Flood inundation mapping being released will indicate potential for flooding due to interior drainage. The proposed maps could cause 80 structures within the city to require flood insurance in the case of interior flooding.

Otomo Engineering, the firm that has been working with the city on various projects since the 2007 flood, believes the proposed FEMA maps are out of date and indicate incorrect elevations. Taken in 2008 in a series of fly-overs for Department of Natural Resources watershed work, the elevation data is likely off target by one to one and a half feet. It may not sound like much, but the firm has indicated it could be a critical difference to those structures.

FEMA would require flood insurance, as well as a flood elevation certificate, for the structures found within interior flooding elevations. Areas zoned by maps requiring insurance will need to attain a flood elevation certificate, the process which is intensive, requiring a 3-page report for each home or affected structure. “It’s been the city’s goal all along, to avoid flood insurance, when rebuilding the levee and drainage systems. Now they’re worried about what’s going on inside the levees,” noted City Administrator Steve Sarvi.

A proposal for a cooperative study between Barr Engineering and Otomo Engineering has been recommended. The Interior Flood Reduction Feasibility Study would correctly map the elevations and define potential mitigation options by conducting survey work and defining options. Furthermore, the study, which includes data points on the ground within 1/10 of an inch, has the ability to influence the FEMA mapping.

The cost of the work to determine elevations and develop methods of mitigation comes in at $33,459. “It’s expensive,” added Sarvi. “We certainly never planned for this.” Even if some structures are found to be within the flood zones after corrected elevations, there are options to use the data to determine ways to get them out of it. Mitigation efforts could include a series of pumps, adjusting elevations at locations, increasing storm water pipe size, or other methods to move the water out. Realistically, Otomo Engineering believes the city could expect as many as 40 structures to not require insurance by proof of updated elevation mapping. Then, through further mitigation methods, it’s possible the city could knock it down by half again. Until the survey is conducted, it’s all speculation.

To get determination of appropriate mitigation options, the city will need the survey. “Barr wouldn’t certify to FEMA without accurate data and FEMA wouldn’t accept just putting in a pump. They’d say, ‘Show us. Prove it.’ The only way to show it is to prove it by shooting the elevations,” stressed Sarvi. Flood inundation maps will not be done for an anticipated 12 to 18 months. This will give the city the time it needs to conduct the study. “We have time, but we don’t want to wait too long,” he continued.

“I just feel general disgust,” responded Mayor Chris Hallum. “Am I right? We keep jumping through hoops and each time we jump through a hoop, two more come up.”

“This was a huge rain event that happened outside of Rushford that caused the levee to over top,” added Councilor Vern Bunke. “I think there’s a bigger chance of that happening again than 17 inches of rain falling inside the levee.”

“It’s hard to meet the moving target. You plan for the worst case scenario, but you can’t possibly rule everything out. At some point, you need to say this is the best we can do,” added Sarvi. The council voted unanimously to approve the study.

Moving forward with another massive project, the city council has granted the clerk and mayor authorization to sign a contract and agreement with the state for the Highway 43 Project. The necessary step moves the city one step closer to having the state commit $1,550,000 that is currently earmarked for the work. Authority has also been granted to the clerk and mayor to advertise bid taking for the project, although bid forms, plans, and specifications are still awaiting finalization. These steps put the city in a position of readiness for when the state has completed its necessary paperwork. Because of the state delay, the information for potential bidders cannot be released and the bid opening date of May 2 may need an extension.

Should the project start date drag out longer than anticipated, the city has options available, but is keeping those options under wraps. “All we can do is be as ready as we can on our end and if it tracks through, we can proceed as needed,” said Sarvi.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Monday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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