Buyout of Missoula County flood victims to start with analysis of costs, options
Missoula County on Tuesday agreed to apply for a small pool of disaster funding to analyze cost-effective ways to mitigate annual flooding west of the city.
Adriane Beck, director of Disaster and Emergency Services, said if the analysis goes well, the county would then apply for a $4 million grant to buy out certain homeowners or move them to another location.
“For the last two months, we’ve been trying to figure out how to tackle this global neighborhood flood problem, specifically on the north end of Tower Street and all of Kehrwald (Drive), and how we come up with an eligible and cost-effective grant application,” Beck said.
The area has flooded repeatedly in recent years, including the spring of 2017 and again in 2018. The county had considered applying for the $4 million grant to begin the process, and it worked closely with DES and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to detail its options.
But Beck said the grant is highly competitive and the county’s application wasn’t yet strong enough.
“Unfortunately, all the ways we tried to get there just didn’t pan out,” she said. “So we’ve changed course in that, instead of applying for a $4 million project to buy everyone out, we’re applying for advanced assistance.”
Advanced assistance would provide $10,000, which the county would use to hire an engineering firm to conduct an analysis. The results would determine the most cost-effective way to address the annual flooding.
“Advanced assistance is typically something that you’re eligible for when you know you have a problem, but you don’t necessarily know how to solve it,” Beck said. “In this case, we know what the problem is, and we can either build a levy, or we can get people out of there.”
It’s already been determined that building a levy would not be cost effective, and it would come with a host of unwanted environmental impacts. Rather, Beck said, “we know the best option is getting those people out of there.”
A number of other factors are also in play, including a new hydrology study by FEMA. That could implicate how many homes sit in the flood zone.
Beck said an estimated 22 properties could be considered for a future buyout, though the number could change based on FEMA’s hydrology study.
“The FEMA remapping process is underway right now,” said Beck. “We’re relatively certain the base flood elevations are going to change in that area.”
Some homes may see their certificate of elevation become invalid once the hydrology study is complete. The analysis would also look at the cost of relocating certain homes rather than tearing them down.
Beck said detailing all the factors will make the county’s application for the $4 million grant stronger, especially when other localities are applying for the funding.
“When you look at the Dakotas and you have $1 billion worth of flood damage, a project like this wouldn’t compete very well,” Beck said. “In order to have a successful application, we believe this is a best way to go.”