By Pauline Masson
Four years and three months after the Meramec River overflowed its banks and inundated Old Town Pacific, damaging more than 200 homes and business properties, the city has received its final documentation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on the buyout of some of the flooded properties.
“The paperwork on the buyout has been completed,” City Administrator Harold Selby said. “We’re done.”
Mayor Herb Adams called the lengthy undertaking a tribute to the patience of property owners who were faced with what seemed interminable waits.
“Were thankful to all the state and federal elected officials who partnered with us to get this done,” Adams said. “But in the end, the most important partner was the property owners. This could not be done overnight and the property owners did a real good job of standing up to the stress of the long buyout process.”
The March 2008 flood saw river levels crest at 28.9 feet, flooding a total of 184 homes and 35 businesses. The flood stage at Pacific is 15 feet.
For most of the property owners, this was not their first flood. The city experienced three 100-year floods in the past 25 years.
A 1915 flood saw waters reach the railroad tracks south of First Street. A 1945 flood washed out portions of the Frisco Railroad tracks southwest of town. In December 1982, water levels rose to 33.6 feet, which set the record.
Following the March 2008 flood, Mayor Herb Adams’ response was swift and vocal. In a series of television and newspaper interviews he called for the return to Pacific of some of the federal taxes paid over the past 100 years to help protect the city from future floods.
Even before the floodwaters had completely receded, Adams talked with state and federal officials about the need for assistance and to property owners about the possibility of a voluntary buyout of their homes, eliminating a recurrence of flood devastation.
FEMA approved a buyout on Sept. 19, 2008, six months after the March flood. And the state of Missouri agreed to allow Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to be used as part of the 25 percent nonfederal match.
Using the FEMA funding, CDBG and local funds, the city purchased 21 residences, demolished the structures and turned the property into green space.
FEMA issued its final performance report June 25, 2013, two days after the final check was issued.
Selby said he had no idea the amount of paperwork and double-checking FEMA would conduct as part of the buyout process.
“We had to send them copies of every element of every purchase,” he said.
Assembled on a table in his office, Selby pointed to boxes, folders and ring binders containing the reams of paper required to document ownership, location, flood damage, property valuation, proof that insurance funds received were spent on property repairs and checks issued to homeowners for each of the properties.
The entire process was capsulized in the 1 1/2-inch thick bound report from FEMA.
The buyout was funded through the federal hazard mitigation grant program’s residential buyout project.
Total buyout cost was $2,178,063 with the federal government contributing $1,633,547, which was 75 percent of the buyout.
The remaining 25 percent of nonfederal matching funds, $544,516, was provided by CDBG and the city of Pacific.
“If we were ever to do this again, I’d ask the aldermen to appoint a grant administrator,” Selby said. “There are actually funds in the buyout program to pay an administrator, but we did this ourselves to save money.”
In addition to the homes that were bought and demolished, dozens of properties on the south side of the city were elevated above flood stage in a process that involved jacking up the home while a flow through concrete foundation was installed.
Since the flood, local builders have constructed more than a dozen new homes on elevated sites that would secure them from future flooding.