February 18, 1996 in Nation/World

Best Solution For Avoiding Floods: Move

Julie Titone Rich Roesler Contributed Staff writer

Inland Northwest flood victims cannot be forced to move above flood plains unless their homes were severely damaged.

But disaster relief workers want flood victims to consider such a move anyway. Less drastic options such as flood-proofing homes and building better dikes near residential areas also are possible through federal disaster relief money.

George Currier, Benewah County’s water-weary civil defense coordinator, hopes some flood victims decide to move out of the flood plain. “It’s good sense that you should go above it.”

Federal help now being offered in the region is a ripple effect from 1993’s horrendous Mississippi River floods.

After those floods, Congress decided more must be done to prevent disasters. So it offered cash to local governments to be distributed by states in the form of mitigation grants.

“Mitigation is the guardrail at the top of the hill,” said Doug Gore of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Preparedness is the ambulance at the bottom.”

Gore manages FEMA operations in North Idaho’s 10-county disaster area. Gov. Phil Batt requested mitigation money well before flood waters receded last week.

It’s too soon to say how much money will be available. The kitty will equal 15 percent of all the federal money spent on the disaster, not including repairs to federal highways.

Some property simply can’t be defended from floodwaters. If local officials decide that’s the case, they could offer to buy out people whose homes were destroyed.

After a Rapid City flood that killed 239 people in 1972, the federal government provided $40 million to clear out the flood plain. Congress doled out another $200 million to move entire towns after the ‘93 Midwest floods.

Such an evacuation, however, is the most expensive option. Instead of moving a home to higher ground, the higher ground can be brought in.

Ryan Hopp knows about that.

When Hopp wanted to put up a mobile home in Cataldo, where he bought an auto shop, Kootenai County building inspector Dave Daniel insisted that he put five feet of dirt under it.

It cost Hopp $4,000. But “he was the only one in town who stayed dry,” reported neighbor Lee Ann Baysinger.

Baysinger wasn’t so lucky. She’s either going to have to elevate her badly damaged home, or move.

The U.S. Small Business Administration will loan homeowners the money to elevate their homes. That allows people to stay near the water, where they often have an emotional as well as a financial investment.

“Flood-proofing is another option,” said Gore. “For example, you could put a stand pipe over the drain in your basement, so the water rises in that” instead of the living space.

FEMA’s new emphasis on prevention includes sending an expert to disaster zones. In North Idaho’s case, it will be Sherryl Zahn who writes a report on ways communities could head off future flood damage.

Some communities will want money to build dikes. Cataldo residents, for example, would like a structure to hold back water under the freeway bridge where they sandbagged up until the last minute.

Such proposals will be considered, said Gore, but he cautioned that the dikes would have to be well-designed - “not every pile of dirt is a dike.” Any new dikes would also have to cost less than the damage they would prevent.

Some government efforts would cost very little. Among them is public education. That would have helped a family from Kingston that didn’t know it was moving into a flood plain two years ago. The family’s yellow house was four feet deep in water after the floods.

Gore believes that local governments need to budget for disaster prevention, just as they plan for disaster assistance and the next purchase of a fire truck.

FEMA, he said, “can’t solve all the problems.” It can’t help at all unless a flood is declared a national disaster.

“This is a one-shot deal,” he said of the mitigation grants. “Ideally, this should prime the pump.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Julie Titone Staff writer Staff writer Rich Roesler contributed to this report.

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