January 11, 1997

Matt Huffman
East County News

Our copy of the East County News arrived yesterday, the 9th. Thank you for the accurate reporting.

Now that the waters are gone, some folks might be looking for help. While it appears that we were tardy in building our flood wall it really took months and months to get it done. Only through good luck and timing were we able to bring together all the resources needed to do the job. It takes a long time and a lot of telephone and paperwork to get things lined up so that you can dig that first shovel-full of dirt. What we went through might be of help. What follows applies only to a primary residence, it does not apply to river restoration or related activities which have unique funding sources.

In February we learned that FEMA assistance was not available to us because we had a Flood Insurance Policy. Direct FEMA assistance was available, upon inspection and approval, to uninsured residents who suffered losses of an emergency nature.

The Flood Insurance Policy which we had covered only losses to the structure of the home. Personal property losses were not covered by our basic policy. You can get coverage for personal property and we have that coverage now.

The insurance coverage did not make us whole. It took a lot more of our money to do all that had to be done. Fortunately the Small Business Administration can help if you live in an area which is declared a Federal Disaster. They have funds available, under several programs, to help residents as well as business owners.

By pursuing the options with the SBA we were able to get a low interest loan to help us in restoring damage resulting from the flood. But this is a loan and it must be repaid.

When it came time to focus on preventing future flood losses we found there is very little help. This prevention activity, called mitigation, is really not backed or funded by anyone. If you live in an area where the community leaders choose to apply for federal assistance, you might quality for a grant from FEMA, through the State Emergency Management Program, distributed through your local jurisdiction. Unfortunately, in our case, Grays Harbor County did not see fit to apply for these grants.

In Thurston and Lewis county the local jurisdictions did apply and some property owners are receiving grants of up to $30,000 to perform mitigation activities.

Between March of 1996 and December 30 1996 it took an immense amount of time to find mitigation experts and to review and select mitigation options. There is a lot of advice available but very few experts. The property owner is the only one who can do this. We found no engineers or agency personnel interested or willing to offer specific advice. FEMA did visit our home but they simply handed out brochures and made no specific recommendations.

All the help and all the assistance provided by FEMA, SBA and others is important. But those helpers almost always come from out of the area and after they leave there is no one to talk to. The assistance vanishes almost as rapidly as the flood waters. They are driven by disasters and when they are done here, there is another disaster someplace else.

In order to finance our mitigation we had to seek help from banks and the SBA. The end result for us, and it might be for other residents, is that we had to get a 2nd and a 3rd mortgage on our home - simply to protect it from flooding! Now to pay off the loans we have to wipe out our retirement savings.

Our advice to other Grays Harbor residents who are thinking about mitigation. If this county is designated as a Federal Disaster area you will have to join with others and form a group. That group will have to deal with the County Commissioners and Emergency Management and present a case that encourages them to apply for federal assistance and disaster mitigation funds. Each member of the group will have to have a proposal for their own project. In other words you need to know what you want to do before you approach the county. Once there you will have to keep the pressure on to build the case that makes them apply for funds. If the funds are awarded to the county you still may not be selected as a recipient, so you have to stay focused and your group has to stay together.

If this fails then you need to work with the SBA, your bank or other sources of funds. For the most part residents in rural Grays Harbor county will find this is their only approach. Rural residents simply don't have enough voting power to attract the support that comes to residents in cities and towns.

If the county applies, and if the county is awarded funds and if you are a recipient you may receive significant funds to help you mitigate future flood damage. As I said, we failed to gain the support of the county, losing an opportunity to apply for assistance and so our mitigation costs have wiped out our financial future

The other 'mitigation' choice is to sell out. We considered that. But how much will a buyer pay for a home which has been flooded not once but twice in 6 years? There is no market and many property owners are pushed into protecting an asset which cannot return the investment.

We have a lot of experience in these matters and if any reader wants advice we have plenty of that to give away!


Dave Palmer
7475 State Route 12
Oakville, WA 98568

Matt, as an after-thought. The best mitigation for flooding is to prohibit future development in the flood plains. This house should never have been built where it is. The county has got to get into Growth Management Planning and take a hard stand on where develpment takes place.