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Residents question flood plain designation

Walker Macy presents flood mitigation plan for city

by: Photo By Holly M. Gill - Ken Pirie of Walker Macy discusses the Flood Mitigation Plan with Bobby Sarkkinen at the Nov. 17 open house.


   The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants the city of Madras to understand its flood hazard, but some local business and property owners feel that the mitigation efforts are worse than the hazard itself.
   Property owners expressed their concerns about the designation of much of downtown Madras as a floodway for Willow Creek at the Madras Flood Mitigation Plan open house Nov. 17, at the Madras City Hall.
   Ken Pirie, of Walker Macy Landscape Architecture firm in Portland, presented a flood history to help residents understand the hazard.
   Walker Macy was awarded the contract to prepare the mitigation plan since the firm was already involved in the city's urban renewal project. FEMA contributed a grant of $13,000 for the contract, which was matched by $3,000 from the city.
   Dennis Sigrist, the state hazard mitigation officer for Oregon Emergency Management, Linda Ryan, field representative for Insurance Services Office Inc., of Tillamook, and Christine Valentine, floodplain/hazards coordinator for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development, were also on hand to answer questions.
   Sigrist noted that there is a FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Program to help communities reduce or eliminate claims. Grants are available for planning, projects, or technical assistance.
   The floodway designation has prevented businesses in the downtown core from expanding or selling property. "We need to stimulate growth in the downtown area," said Cory DeJarnatt, owner of Madras Auto Parts, located on A Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets. "This will cause new business to look elsewhere."
   DeJarnatt pointed out that the floodway designation affects 17 businesses, and more in the flood plain. "Properties are unbuildable and not expandable."
   Back in 1955, DeJarnatt said his father opened the business, and it has undergone three expansions since then. Because of the danger of a 100-year flood, such as the ones the city experienced in 1964 and 1979, "Seven or eight months ago, I was told I no longer have the ability to expand," he said. "We're now considered to be in the low-lying Mississippi Delta."
   A 100-year flood isn't an event that only happens in 100-year intervals. "The '64 event was a 100-year event," said Sigrist. "That means there was a 1 percent chance in any given year that it would happen. It really depends on the condition of the watershed."
   DeJarnatt brought photos he had taken of the debris and overgrowth of vegetation in the streambed, which could contribute to future flooding. He and others suggested that whomever is responsible for Willow Creek -- whether it's the city or the U.S. Forest Service -- should clean out the creek bed.
   Mayor Rick Allen recalled that in the 1960s and 1970s, the city would start out near the county landfill and take a Caterpillar D8 through the creek bed to clean it out. That stopped in the 1980s, he said, but even if the city could make the channel deeper, "When it floods, the volume is 20 times Willow Creek's capacity."
   Flooding occurs when an area receives a lot of snow on frozen ground, followed by a warm wind and some rain, which rapidly melts the snow, Pirie pointed out.
   Francis "Guff" Thorpe, who owns the Green Spot Welders property, said that the last major flood in 1979 caused no damage to the business, which he was operating at that time. Still, the floodway designation means that anyone who purchases the property must now carry flood insurance.
   Thorpe had a buyer for his property, but was unable to complete the sale because of the floodway designation. "We bought the property, and now we have nothing," he said.
   Tony Pereira, a resident of S.W. First Street, said he has only lived in his home for eight years, but previous residents told him that it had never flooded -- not in 1964, and not in 1979 -- even though it is located in the flood plain.
   Since he is purchasing his home, and doesn't own it outright, he was told he would have to have flood insurance, which was going to add $800 to his insurance bill.
   "I spent $250 to get my property surveyed, and found out I was 1.3 feet above the flood plain," he said.
   Ryan told Pereira that for $500, he could apply to FEMA to have the inclusion of his property in the flood plain reevaluated.
   Lifetime Madras resident Harold Moore said he had experienced all the floods mentioned and appreciated the work the city is doing to mitigate flood damage.
   Moore made several suggestions to the Madras Planning Commission, which met immediately following the open house. "The primary thing, and this should be done tomorrow," he said, "is clean the channel."
   He also suggested making bridges larger, including the one planned for the J Street extension from McTaggart Road to Grizzly Road.
   City Administrator Mike Morgan said that the J Street bridge, which will allow J Street to cross Willow Creek, will be 80 feet long and 52 feet wide, at an estimated cost of $416,000. The city and county are working together on the J Street extension.
   "When a bridge is designed now, as a general rule of thumb, the engineer predicts the volume based on a 100-year event," Morgan said.
   Pirie outlined the steps the city needs to take to finalize a flood mitigation plan. The action items include:
   1) Formalize a flood mitigation plan oversight committee.
   2) Reduce federal flood insurance premiums through a Community Rating System (CRS).
   3) Develop a flood plain/ floodway management strategy.
   4) Identify, prioritize and mitigate residential properties currently at risk of flooding.
   5) Clean out Willow Creek channel, culverts, and bridges.
   6) Develop a comprehensive public outreach and education program.
   7) Improve and update the city's flood mapping information.
   As long-term goals, Walker Macy suggested:
   1) Develop a city emergency response system.
   2) Restore riparian areas and wetlands and protect water quality.
   3) Strengthen land-use planning and zoning.
   Ryan explained that CRS recognizes a community's efforts -- beyond minimum standards -- by reducing flood insurance premiums for property owners. CRS discounts on flood insurance premiums range from 5 percent to 45 percent.
   "Right now, you would qualify for a 5 percent reduction," she said. The city currently has 76 flood insurance policies in effect, with a total insurance value of $9,453,000.
   Valentine said that she applauds the community's foresight in working on a plan. "In communities that don't participate in the FEMA National Flood Insurance program, the residents can't get flood insurance," she said.
   After listening to comments from the public, commission member Tom Brown asked, "Is the cure worse than the disease?"
   Ryan, who lives in Tillamook, which has been plagued by flooding, said she can certainly understand the community's dismay, especially about the problems with development in the downtown corridor, but added, "It's for the safety of citizens."
   The Planning Commission will continue to work on the plan, and present it to the Madras City Council this month.