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Council OKs flood relief grant program

Nearly three years after Mother Nature dumped a half foot of rain on Woodbury in about six hours, Woodbury city officials are still talking about the "October 2005 rainfall event." They're continuing to take action as well.

The Woodbury City Council voted at last week to adopt a resolution that enacts a flood relief grant program for residential properties damaged by flooding as a result of the Oct. 4, 2005 significant rainfall event.

The council also voted at its Wednesday, July 9 meeting to designate a number of properties near the Wilmes Lake basin as "flood susceptible."

The designation means property owners will be some of the first eligible to apply for the flood relief grant program, which allows residents to enter into a cost-sharing program with the city and the South Washington County Watershed District for flood proofing improvements made to their property.

City staff have estimated the city and watershed district will each contribute about $449,000 to the program. The funds will go toward at least 50 percent cost of every grant that is located within the watershed district, which covers most of Woodbury. Because the program is intended to address flood proofing issues associated with the Oct. 2005 event, funds will be available no later than Dec. 31, 2011.

Woodbury Deputy Public Works director Klayton Eckles said the city has kept record of properties affected by the Oct. 2005 rainfall event and will be sending notices to those homeowners to inform them on the flood relief grant program. A grant review committee comprised of one city council member, one city staff member and one watershed district member will appropriate grants to homeowners on a individual basis.

Long process

Talk of a flood proofing program for residents first came about last summer as several residents in the Wilmes Lake area lobbied the city to make structural improvements to storm water systems near the lake.

City officials said the structural improvements were not necessary and would be too costly and suggested the flood relief grant program as a more cost-effective alternative.

Last fall, the city council reviewed early versions of the program, but some Wilmes Lake residents said the city wasn't contributing enough in the cost sharing program. The city encouraged the concerned residents to form a group that could dialogue with the city on their concerns.

This spring, the Wilmes Lake Workgroup sat down with council members and city staff to address any concerns they had with a proposed flood proofing program. The result of the meetings became what is now the flood relief grant program.

Some Wilmes Lake area residents continued to express dissatisfaction with the parameters of the program, but the city council members, who voted unanimously for the program, maintained it was a more than generous effort on behalf of the city.

Concerns expressed

Although the program is set up to be a cost-sharing endeavor, it essentially guarantees $5,000 to homeowners whose applications are accepted by a formal review committee without any specific minimum dollar amount of homeowner participation. That aspect left Woodbury City Council member Amy Scoggins reluctant to support the program.

"Part of what concerns me is that there needs to be a minimum level of participation by the residents," Scoggins said.

Eckles said a flood relief grant program committee will be able to determine the dollar amount of the grant and how much a homeowner would have to contribute to the specific project.

One of the tenets of the program is that homeowners who participate must sign a waiver releasing the city of any liability associated with the work done, which will be completed by independent contractors chosen by the residents and approved by the committee.

The waiver concerned Wilmes Lake area resident John Martin, who told the council he thought the language of the waiver was too broad.

"When I waved that past my legal counsel they said that's way too open-ended and only someone very foolish or very ignorant would sign away all their rights to any open-ended action or lack of action to the city for past or future flood damages," Martin said.

Woodbury Mayor Bill Hargis said the waiver was typical of any grant program a citizen chooses to participate in.

"If you participate in the program it's not intended to guarantee there will not be any future incidents," Hargis said. "In the legal world you cannot really contract away your future negligence."

City attorney Nick Vivian said the program is a fair and legally honest attempt by the city to assist residents in flood proofing their properties.

"The program doesn't completely eliminate the (flood) risk to the homeowners," Vivian said. "The bottom line is there could be a storm event that could still cause some water damager and we can't guarantee as a city that we're going to protect against everything, that's why you see the language that the city doesn't guarantee it won't be exposed to potential future damage."