Tuesday, February 02, 2010

TOP STORY >> Railroad, FEMA view aftermath of Beebe floods

Leader staff writer

Union Pacific railroad officials, along with Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel, were in Beebe recently to survey damage from two floods that devastated part of the Windwood subdivision.

Mayor Mike Robertson said the railroad appears open to the idea of rebuilding trestles taken out decades ago to allow water to flow out of the subdivision faster if that would help. And FEMA might be able to provide money to relocate some of the residents whose homes were severely damaged if a federal disaster area is declared. But for now, he has no real update on the solution to the flooding or relief for its victims. Too many questions are still unanswered.

Robertson said officials with Union Pacific didn’t say no when asked about rebuilding railroad trestles (bridges that water could flow through) that were taken out 20 years ago and replaced with dirt beds that act as dams holding runoff in the subdivision.

“At least they were receptive,” he said.

The mayor said he sent the railroad representatives to Don Beavers with BF Engineering because Beavers understands the problems in the area. But the railroad will want its own engineering study, he said.

The flooding, the day before Halloween and Christmas Eve, had two causes, he said. Runoff has gotten worse in recent years as the entire area, not just Beebe, has developed. The water could not get through the remaining railroad trestle to a lower-lying area as fast as it came into the subdivision. At the same time, Cypress Bayou was already full and backed up into the subdivision.

“There was no place for it to go,” he said.

Robertson said his information about progress with FEMA comes from the county’s Office of Emergency Management in Searcy.

Someone from his office calls at least every two days, he said. But until a federal disaster declaration is made, there will be no federal money to help with the problem.

Some residents want the city to use federal money to buy their homes which will likely be difficult to sell because they were flooded even if the flooding problem is solved.

Robertson said he knows money for that might be available, but he doesn’t know if it will be. And if it is, it would have to be a full grant to the city because the city couldn’t afford to pay any of the cost of buying flooded homes.

In the meantime, the owners of about half the dozen homes that were damaged by flood water are making repairs.

Some of the flooded homes were not protected by flood insurance. The mayor said some residents have filed lawsuits against the financial institutions that financed them.

Some residents have said the city should have told them they needed the insurance. Robertson said the city could have told them their homes were in a flood zone if they had asked, but they didn’t ask and the city has no way of knowing when a home is sold.

The city ordinance on building in flood zones says homes that sustain flood damage of half their value cannot be rebuilt. So far, only one home fits that description.