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County eyes cash to rebuild in townships

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ANN MARIE AMES
August 12, 2008
— As many as 80 houses in five Rock County townships might be damaged so badly from Rock River flooding that they will need to be razed.

It could be months before every house has been inspected for damage and homeowners have turned in repair estimates, but county officials have driven through damaged neighborhoods, and it’s not looking good, especially in Janesville, Fulton and Milton townships, county planning Director Scott Heinig said.


“There’s a huge amount of damage up there,” Heinig said.


The county plans to apply for two grants to buy and raze substantially damaged houses in parts of the floodplain in the townships of Beloit, Rock, Janesville, Fulton and Milton, Heinig said.


But the grant money won’t cover secondary homes such as vacation properties.


The county has asked the five townships to cover that expense, but so far three of the five townships have declined.


Unofficially, it looks like 66 houses—outside of the cities of Janesville and Beloit—are so damaged they might need to be razed and could not be rebuilt because they are located in the floodway, the portion of the floodplain that holds moving water during a flood, Heinig said.


Another 14 houses might have to come down but could be rebuilt because they are in the floodfringe, the portion of the floodplain that holds standing water during a flood, Heinig said.


The estimated 80 houses are a mix of primary and secondary residences.


“We have a pretty substantial list, but it’s a preliminary list,” Heinig said. “We do not know exactly. That’s part of the problem. We had a difficult time giving the towns an estimate. It changes every day as we get more information.”


The Rock River started flooding June 13. The river finally dropped enough in recent weeks that authorities began removing slow/no-wake restrictions.


The county board Thursday will vote whether to approve applications for:


-- Federal Hazard Mitigation Grant. This is intended to buy and tear down houses that can’t be rebuilt. Township homeowners who want the money must ask the county to apply on their behalf.


The grant would provide 75 percent of the money to buy and raze houses; the rest would be a 12.5 percent state match and a 12.5 percent local match—from either towns or the county, depending on the house and the towns.


The federal and state dollars only will be available if towns or the county kick in local match.


-- Community Development Block Grant. This would be used to cover the 12.5 percent local match, but the block grant money cannot be used for secondary residences, Heinig said.


So far, only the town of Rock has agreed to cover the local match to buy and raze secondary homes.


The Beloit Town Board will vote Monday, Aug. 18.


The towns of Fulton, Janesville and Milton already have said, “No.” So the owners of secondary homes in those townships would have to pay from their own pockets to tear down substantially damaged houses in the floodway.


The Milton Town Board on Monday declined to participate, partly because the county damage estimates are only preliminary.


Board Chairman Bryan Meyer said it’s likely that the estimated $180,000 expense to the town to cover the 12.5 percent match on secondary homes is “grossly exaggerated.” But it will be hard to know until the last house is inspected.


“It’s awful hard to make a decision,” Supervisor Susan Gavigan said. “We might be talking $20,000. We might be talking $100,000.”


FLOOD RECOVERY

Rock County is heading up the inspection, assessment and mitigation process for homes outside the cities of Janesville and Beloit. Specifically, the county is dealing with flood-damaged homes in Beloit, Rock, Janesville, Milton and Fulton townships.


Homeowners not allowed to rebuild may ask the county to apply on their behalf for federal hazard mitigation money. If the county lands the grant, the money would reimburse homeowners for the pre-flood assessed value of the house and pay for the county to demolish the house.


Some of the money also would come from the state or the county.


When the county starts applying for the mitigation grant, it would apply for a portion more than the house is worth, planning director Scott Heinig said. For example, to buy and mitigate a house assessed at $100,000, the county might apply for $120,000, he said.


The homeowner would get $100,000, and the rest would go to tear down the house. The property would become the county’s, and nothing could be built there again, Heinig said.


How do you know if you can rebuild?


Houses located in the floodway—that’s the part of the floodplain that holds moving water during a flood—cannot be rebuilt if they have been damaged by more than 50 percent of the home’s assessed value, Heinig said. The county will have new assessments done to determine the pre-flood value of damaged homes, he said.


Houses in the flood fringe—that’s the part of the floodplain that holds standing water during a flood—can be rebuilt but would have to be elevated above the flood level.



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