City approves contract for flood victims

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flood victims, displaced from their homes for nearly a year due, can now have their utilities restored to begin repairing the damage — but only if they sign a contract approved by Vicksburg Board of Mayor and Alderman at a special called meeting Friday and waive their rights to any federal disaster assistance in the future.

About a dozen homeowners from Ford and Waltersville subdivisions — the areas worst hit by spring 2008 flooding — attended the meeting and received a copy of the contract.

Louis Craft, 86, whose home on Williams Street took on about 3 feet of floodwater, said he doesn’t see many options available besides signing the contract if he and his wife, Rosie, ever want to return to the home he built in 1956. “I’m going to have my attorney look at it and, if it’s all in order, I’ll sign it. I don’t really have any other choice. I want to move back.”

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An estimated 50 homes were deemed “substantially damaged” by the city as a result of near-record flooding from the Mississippi River.”Substantial” is defined as requiring repairs costing 51 percent or more of the home’s pre-flood value.

To participate in the National Flood Insurance Program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, cities and counties must enforce ordinances against issuing permits for repairs to substantially damaged properties. The idea is to prevent repeat claims to the taxpayer-subsized claim fund.

Utilities were cut as the floodwaters rose last spring, and by local ordinance they cannot be turned back on unless the home is repaired to meet all codes. In the case of homes in Ford and Waltersville subdivisions, that appeared to mean elevating the homes to meet the 100-year flood plain. Vicksburg also offered a federal buyout plan, but many residents could not qualify for mortages or didn’t want to move or were unable to afford mortgages.

Signing the contract approved Friday doesn’t not allow residents to move back into their homes — at least at first. If they take up residency in their homes, said Leyens, the city will cite them in violation of city ordinance and be taken to city court. There, Section 1316 of the National Flood Insurance Act can be invoked, by which FEMA will officially recognize the residents’ forfeiture of rights and thereby allow them to move back into their homes.

“This is not really the big decision,” said Leyens of signing the contract. “If you decided to occupy your house after you make repairs, that’s when you start down the path of permanency.”

Along with forfeiting future federal assistance, the contract makes clear, if signed, residents may also have their homes foreclosed by their banks, their property values could fall and they may not be able to purchase flood and other types of insurance.

“Please look at this and study it carefully to make sure you understand what you’re signing,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield told the residents.

The contracts can be picked up in the legal office at City Hall and, once signed, can be returned to the same office. Sixteen residents have agreed to buyouts, which are still pending final approval by the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. A few other residents in the area have begun elevating their homes.

The river topped flood stage of 43 feet March 29 and crested at 50.9 feet April 19.


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