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Homeowners Wage Fight To Remove Homes From Floodplain

This is the first in a two-part story.

Wane Lobring lives on a street called Creeks Edge Drive, which is aptly named.  There is, in fact, a small creek which runs behind Lobring’s house. His kids play in it in the summer. Even on chilly, damp January days, parents push their kids in strollers along the walking path which borders the water, but the same creek is Lobring’s constant foil, too.

It has been raining the better part of the last two days and the creek, at its deepest point, is shin deep.

Because of the creek and the nearby elevation of the land, Lobring’s house, and those of many of his neighbors on the same side of the street, are in a flood plain.

Redrawn Floodplain Maps Cost Homeowners

In fact, when flood maps were redrawn in 2010, the borderline for deciding whether land was in or out of the flood plain was drawn just a few feet from Lobring’s back door.

“We built this house from scratch in 2008,” Lobring says. “And at that time, when we had all the surveys and all the certificates; all the building permits. There was no mention of a flood plain. There was no mention of potential map redrawings of flood plains. And two years later, we get a letter in the mail from our bank basically saying ‘you’re now in a flood plain and you have to buy insurance.’”

That insurance now costs Lobring more than $650 a year. Lobring and several of his neighbors contacted FEMA after learning of their new designation. There is a remonstrance procedure called a Letter of Map amendment, or LOMA.

File the LOMA and a home can be declared to be free of flood risk, meaning the costly flood insurance is no longer necessary. But the paperwork must be signed by county officials who give their consent that the maps FEMA uses to judge flood risk are incorrect. That is where Lobring’s neighbor John Talbott hit a wall.

“The people there are all very nice and they indicate they want to help, but the fact of the matter is it’s been two years and we just don’t seem to be able to get somebody to basically take a pen and sign their name on a single document that would allow us to send this off to the federal government and be done with it,” Talbott says.

Aligning Federal, County Guidelines

It is not a question of whether the maps are inaccurate. County drainage engineer Todd Stevenson says there is little question they are wrong.

“The FEMA maps are a useful tool in flood plain management, but they’re not always accurate, so you have to be really careful with them,” Stevenson says. “Sometimes the maps cover too much area area that doesn’t really flood. And sometimes they don’t include areas that do flood.”

Rather, says county planner Larry Wilson, it is a case of his office trying to follow a local ordinance.

“In order to sign off on these, we have to state that it doesn’t impact the overall efficiency of our flood plain program,” Wilson says. “And our flood plain ordinance requires there be two foot elevation above the base flood level on any construction.”

Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency visited Bloomington last week to talk with planning officials about the county’s flood plain and how it is managed. FEMA officials say their conversations with local officials were productive, but declined to offer specifics. John Talbott says he is back to calling Larry Wilson, but his expectations are low.

“At this point I don’t expect anything,” he says laughing. “I expect to wait longer.”

Jinghua Tu contributed to this report.

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