Flood insurance may be at risk for some homeowners

by: Art Heerwagen, J&B Heller Land Development began a two-month logging operation last week along two-mile section of the south east side of the Scappoose Drainage District’s dike. Large cottonwood trees along the bank of Multnomah Channel are being removed to prevent the shallow-rooted trees from literally tearing holes in the dike during highwater events each spring.  “If the dike is breached in this way,” said company owner Jeff Heller, “the  Army Corp of Engineer will not certify the dike, and dikeland residents won’t be able to keep their flood insurance.” In this photo, Cat driver Floyd Haderly (right) drags logs to the landing area where a log-loader operated by Heller (left) stacks them for placement on a truck.

FEMA wants the Multnomah Channel levee (dike) recertified by July 2009 to ensure its structural integrity. The agency will be publishing an updated Flood Insurance Rate Map in the near future that could impact some homeowners' flood insurance.

Geoff Wenker, president of the Scappoose Drainage Improvement Company, told the Scappoose City Council that the cost to recertify the dike is approximately $30,000. He and the district have asked the city of Scappoose to help pay for the recertification.

Wenker told the City Council that growth in the city has increased storm runoff from paved surfaces. Expansion in south and east Scappoose caused additional stormwater drainage into and onto properties in the Scappoose Drainage District. This places an additional pumping burden on the district. 'As there are more hard surfaces,' said Wenker, 'during a major rain event, the system could become overwhelmed.' Wenker's request was for an undefined amount of money from the city of Scappoose.

Much of the areas east of Scappoose are at very low elevations. The elevation of the city sewer treatment plant is 10 feet above sea level. The top of the dike is 32 feet above sea level. It protects farm, industrial and residential properties built within the channel's flood plain. There have been three floods in the last 100 years that were within 27 inches of the top of the dike.

Without recertification, the dike would not count as protection from flooding and FEMA would assume it did not exist. This assumption would result in FEMA rating properties in the area as being in primary flood plains. It is very difficult to purchase flood insurance for residents and businesses in primary flood plains. The primary flood plain designation would virtually stop all development in the district.

The Scappoose Drainage District was formed in 1940 to oversee the building of the Multnomah Channel dike and to manage the land that was reclaimed by the project. The dike was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1940. The Scappoose Drainage Improvement Company is comprised of all land owners in the district it represents, and manages the district. Four pumps help keep the district dry inside the dike.

City Manager Jon Hanken countered the request for funds by suggesting the district make a one-time assessment on members of approximately $5.35 per acre. The minimum assessment lot within the district is one acre.

Council members Judie Ingham, Donna Gedlich and Larry Meres said that it would benefit the city to have a recertified dike that would allow homeowners in the district to purchase flood insurance.

'The dike protects all of us,' said Gedlich.

After much discussion the council directed Hanken to work with the district to come up with suggested plans for the city to assist in the drainage district's financial burden in the recertifying process.

In other business, the council approved entering into an intergovernmental agreement with the city of St. Helens and with Scappoose School District. These actions formalized the existing working relationships between Scappoose and St. Helens, as well as Scappoose and the Scappoose School District.

The next Scappoose City Council meeting will be Monday, May 5 at 7 p.m. There will be a budget committee meeting Tuesday, April 29 at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the Scappoose City Council chambers 33568 E. Columbia Ave. The public is encouraged attend both meetings.