After hearing from property owners for more than an hour Monday night, Washington City Council members voted unanimously to adopt controversial new federal floodplain study and flood insurance rate maps.
The council also directed the city staff to study three creeks that run through town — the southwest tributary of Busch Creek, Fifth Street Creek and City Park Creek — and to again look into a possible regional plan for detaining stormwater in areas to the south of the city limits.
It was noted that portions of the three small creeks have been piped underground and that revised elevations could result in some property being moved out of the flood zone.
The restudy will evaluate all existing hydrologic conditions including the stormwater piping system now a part of the approximate zones, City Engineer Dan Boyce told the planning and zoning commission last week.
The plan board recommended the city adopt the new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood study and maps.
A number of property owners expressed opposition to approving the new maps, saying their homes have been moved into flood zones and that will impact their values.
Jack Mentink of Integrity Engineering, Rolla, was retained by several owners of property along West Eighth Street, east and west of Jefferson Street, which now are included in the floodplain. He explained how his firm developed a regional detention plan for Rolla that has mitigated flooding in that city.
Jim Briggs, city engineer, pointed out later that the city commissioned a study of the Busch Creek watershed area a number of years ago.
That study found that even with large, multiple detention facilities, the stormwater levels would be reduced by only a minimal amount. He said that plan was presented to the city council but it was not deemed cost-effective for the amount of water detained.
Another problem, Briggs noted, is that the areas where detention facilities are needed are privately owned and outside the city limits.
Several people remarked that the city needs to spend money that’s been built up in the stormwater management fund to help protect property.
The new flood maps replace the maps that have been in use since 1982. The process to adopt new flood zone maps has been under way since 2001 when FEMA commissioned an engineering study by the URS firm. In 2007, the city hired another firm, the Farnsworth Group, to review the URS study but found nothing substantially wrong, Boyce said.
Last year, the city contracted with Buescher Frankenberg and Associates to conduct a more extensive study along Busch Creek which determined that some elevations needed to be lowered. FEMA incorporated those revised elevations in the new maps, Boyce noted.
The ramifications of not adopting the new maps by Oct. 18 is that citizens will not be able to purchase flood insurance through FEMA’s national insurance program and if there is a flood, the city may not be eligible for disaster aid, Boyce noted.
Roger Langendoerfer, who owns the old Busch Brewery building on the south bank of Busch Creek, said with adoption of the new flood maps, the value of his property will immediately drop by $400,000.
Mary Price, 120 Dawn Drive, told council that she paid “top dollar” for her home and a few months later found out that it’s in a floodplain. She asked that if the value of the property goes down will the real taxes also go down.
Council members said they realize that not passing the new study and rate maps is not an option.
“We have to pass them,” Councilman Jeff Mohesky said. “Otherwise we’re putting a lot of people in jeopardy. Ponds upstream would be good if they are cost-effective. I don’t have a problem looking into that further.”
“The responsibility lies with the city to spend the money to correct this,” said Dave Frick, who owns a building on the south side of Busch Creek, east of Jefferson Street. He said there has been an “unwillingness” of the city to hold developers accountable for building detention facilities.
Briggs then ticked off a list of developments since the 1990s where stormwater detention facilities have been added. In cases where facilities were not required, developers are mandated to pay into the stormwater fund an equal amount to what it would cost to detain stormwater.
“The city has been very diligent in requiring developers to detain stormwater,” Briggs said.
“I’d recommend we look at increasing detention facilities,” remarked Councilman Tim Brinker. “But to say the city’s been dropping the ball is incorrect. I think you have a willing administration on this.”
“I think you need to seriously look at stormwater detention,” Langendoerfer said.
Tim Buddemeyer, 619 Roberts St., and Tamara Egli, 304 Frank St., both appealed to the council to vote to do the restudy of the Fifth Street Creek.
Buddemeyer said the creek was piped underground between James and Third streets. He said the council should help protect residents in the area from a “double dip.” They paid to put in the pipe and now may have to pay for flood insurance, he noted.
Dennis Wilson, who owns property at Ninth and International, said the flood of 1993 did not get onto his property. “We need to get it right if we’re going to change this,” he commented. “It’s affecting property values; it’s real damage to property owners.”
Dale Holdmeier, 2210 Captains Drive, said he’s owned his home since 1992 and even in the major 1993 flood he never had water get into his yard. Now, he said, he’s being placed in a floodplain. “We need to take a better look at this.”
A man who owns a home on East Ninth Street said floodwaters from the 2000 flash flood did not get on his lot but he’s still in the new floodplain. He said the city needs to do a better job in clearing obstructions in the creek.