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June 2009

EDITORIAL

HECKOFAVAJOB FEMA --WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?

It is a well-known fact that the Angry Citizen is no fan of FEMA (more specifically FEMA Region X) given their propensity to be nothing more than a paper tiger insurance company that does not enforce regulations and cannot be relied upon to tell the truth.  (See FEMA -- The Total Failure Package; DC Trip Experience  and previous Angry Citizen editorials November 2006 FEMA REGION: The Judas of the Pacific Northwest and March 2007 SKAGIT COUNTY – CASH COW OR LET’S DO IT OURSELVES?  Based on information and belief from the facts contained therein, and the letter submitted to Burlington and Dike 12 dated 5/21/2009 (See Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with respect to Burlington’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement to Adopt A Strategic Program for Comprehensive Flood Hazard Mitigation, I still believe that FEMA Region X is not doing their job. 

While the overall letter makes some fine and legitimate criticisms of Burlington’s poorly drafted and incomplete document FEMA makes a very astonishing statement contained on Page 4 at paragraph #13:

13. FEMA did not define a floodway for Skagit River delta communities. The City of Burlington must therefore administer their floodplain ordinance in accordance with 44 CFR 60.3 (c) (10) which states: "no new construction, substantial improvements, or other development (including fill) shall be permitted within Zones Al-30 on the community's FIRM unless it is demonstrated that the cumulative effect of the proposed development, when combined with all other existing and anticipated development will not increase the water surface elevation of the base flood more than one foot at any point within the community."  (Emphasis added)

Did not define a floodway?  Despite ignoring the overwhelming evidence, that is exactly what FEMA did.  Evidence that has been cited several times in the previously aforementioned documents.  Evidence clearly being ignored.  Perhaps not a “conventional floodway” however did designate areas to be treated like floodways.  (See FEMA -- The Total Failure Package as well as   my comment letter on the DEIS which contains links to all the documentation of exactly what FEMA did in the mid-1980’s.  Pay particular attention to FEMA letter dated 2/1/84 that stated in part, “Thus only lands within and including the Skagit River levees were designated as floodways in the conventional manner.”  Take special notice of the fact that this letter came from the Washington DC office of FEMA.  So one must now ask the question by what authority does a Regional Office usurp the authority of their headquarters in DC?

 Where is FEMA’s outrage over the “conveyance areas” next to the levees being filled by the Dike District?  Where is FEMA’s outrage over fill being added to the top of the levees and riverward of the levees by the Dike Districts all with knowledge but without benefit of permits from the local jurisdictions?  Where is FEMA’s outrage over the fact that “Burlington must therefore administer their floodplain ordinance in accordance with 44 CFR 60.3(c)(10)”, a fact/condition that has been known by the City since at least 1981 (See FEMA letter to Port Commissioner) and if not then most assuredly by 8/22/83 (See FEMA letter regarding floodway designation of Gages Slough) and yet it has never been enforced thus allowing massive urban development all placed on landfill on the bottom of the river.  Landfill that creates a well-known and long time recognized problem.  “The problem is that if you allow indiscriminate development in the floodplain, the problem is the same as what happens when you get into a full bath tub.  You get into a bath tub the water goes up.  If you build anywhere in the floodplain the water is going to be blocked, diverted, its got to go somewhere and its going to harm other people.” (Chuck Steele, FEMA…See Skagit County Partial Transcript of Public Meeting on Flood Insurance Study 6/14/84)  What good are regulations if they are not going to be enforced?  It is the very lack of enforcement that has the impact of promoting development within our floodplains thus placing more people/commercial development at risk and running up the bill for flood damage reduction projects and taxpayers bailing out those who built there.  Heckofava job FEMA!!  Where is the outrage?

 One of the reasons perhaps that FEMA doesn’t enforce anything they have done in Burlington is that Burlington can best be described as a “money-maker” or a “cash cow” for FEMA.  As of February 14, 2007 “. . .1,291 Burlington residents pay $709,524 a year in flood insurance premiums (average of $550 per policyholder).  In contrast, Burlington residents have only made 26 claims in the 29 years FEMA has kept records, for a total in claims payments of $44,904 (average of $1,727 per claim); further, many of those claims were found to be outside of the City, in unincorporated Skagit County (they were mis-coded in the insurance processing).  (Source:  Department of Ecology e-mail dated 2/14/2007.)  Follow the money because it’s always about the money.

 On the other hand, let’s take a look at FEMA’s track record in Hamilton, a small town much in the news lately that apparently some want all of Skagit County taxpayers to pay to move out of the floodplain although 51% of the people sampled in a recent poll who live there either do not have a position on moving or do not want to move at all.  (See Skagit IMS 2008 Survey)  In the same DOE e-mail referenced above the following was provided:  This contrast with Hamilton's 85 current policies (costing $54,565 a year) that have produced 182 claims in the last 29 years for claims payments of $2,889,841 ($15,878 per claim).  $2,889,841 is a far cry from the “…well over $10 million in public funding and NFIP flood insurance claims has been spent in Hamilton alone” reported by FEMA Mitigation Director, Mark Carey.  (See Public Comment to April 20, 2009 Flood Control Zone District Advisory Committee and Memorandum from Hamilton Mayor Tim Bates to Skagit Council of Governments Local Revenue Generation for Flood Control)  However, a substantial amount of money nonetheless.  A fact that has not gone unnoticed in the Town of Hamilton as is evidenced by the following statements:

Then there is the money.  “After the flooding, an avenue of money comes in that’s unreal,” Hamilton Mayor Tim Bates said.  Bates says he doesn’t think all the flood insurance money intended for home repairs gets spent that way.  . . . people make minor repairs and then keep the balance of their insurance settlements.  “I’ve seen people living off insurance money here for years.  But it’s none of my business,” he said.  “It’s their money.”  (Source:  Insurance, grant money flow freely; 11/11/96 SVH)

 

Hamilton Mayor Tim Bates says the one thing that follows flood waters in Hamilton is money – from the state, the federal government and the National Flood Insurance Program.  And despite the recurring flooding problem, he plans to stay.  (Source:  Organizing move no easy task for Hamilton,  11/11/96 SVH)

  

Bates estimates that about 30 percent of Hamilton residents are repeat offenders who get money from the government to bail them out when the floods hit.  The only thing that might push people to relocate is not being able to get any more money to bail them out, Bates said.  (Source: Bill could raise flood premiums – Targets those with repetitive loss claims;  11/21/2003 SVH)

 

After the flood, insurance adjusters sent Roetcisoender a check for $20.000 to make repairs on one home.  Instead of hiring a contractor, he said he made many of the repairs himself saving about $15,000.  He said his largest house cost him $7.000 to fix and the claims adjuster sent him a check for $35.000.  "I hired a couple of local guys," said Roetcisoender, who has since sold all of his Hamilton properties and moved to Clark County.  FEMA doesn't check repairs.  This is perfectly legal and allowed under terms of the insurance policy.  The only requirement is that all the work specified by the adjuster is completed.  However, there is no follow-up to see that the repairs are made.  "We expect the home to be repaired." said Ryan Ike, flood plain management specialist with FEMA. "The program does not go through and do any policing action."  . . .  Although talk of misuse of FEMA aid has circulated in Hamilton for months. no clear evidence of fraud has been reported.  But Mayor Tim Bates, who has lived in the town for decades, believes that some has occurred.  Some people take the disaster money meant to replace damaged floors, carpets and walls and decide to do nothing to fix up their homes, he said, without naming names.  "Some of these folks, they have a lot of money and haven't done diddly-squat to their place," Bates said, while selling groceries at his business The Hamilton Market.  "They just washed the mud out and it looks the same as it did before."  (Source:  Flood Insurance, disaster aid help little river town survive 12/29/2004 SVH)

  

The small town of about 300 residents will depend on state and federal support.  The total cost of the relocation, including the cost of the Lawson property, buyouts of the current properties and an affordable housing project at the new site is estimated at $30 million.  Another hurdle is to convince 70 households to pick up and move. The town could kick-start the relocation by enforcing a law that’s been on the books for nearly two decades — a prohibition on repairs to flood damaged homes, Tracy said.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been tolerant of the town’s transgressions thus far but is threatening to remove Hamilton’s eligibility for flood insurance.  Residents then would no longer qualify for FEMA money.  Town Councilman Dale Bonner said the council is now committed to denying permits to homeowners who want to make repairs that exceed half the value of their homes.  “We can’t allow any more rebuilding,” Bonner said.  “If we allow that to go on, we’re exacerbating the problem.”  (Source:  Hamilton relocation gaining support; 10/9/2008 SVH)

 So FEMA’s NFIP track record in Hamilton is fraught with fraud, misuse of government funds, lack of enforcement of government regulations due largely in part because “The program does not go through and do any policing action.” Wonderful!  Heckofavajob FEMA!!  Where is the outrage?

 The public would be better served by demanding major changes to the NFIP including but not limited to offering a one time low interest loan (heavy emphasis on the word loan, 2% or less) to the property owners impacted by a flood event to either raise their homes 3 feet above the base flood elevation or raze their current home and move out of the floodplain.  Refusal to accept the loan and meet the conditions of the loan would result in their ineligibility for future government assistance or eligibility to participate in the NFIP.  The public should also demand that land use regulations in the form of local flood insurance ordinances be strictly enforced or the local communities be kicked out of the NFIP altogether.  The FEMA run NFIP should not be responsible for promoting development in our nation’s floodplains nor should it be responsible for the misuse of government funds.

LETS DO IT OURSELVES!!  LETS DO IT NOW!!  LETS DO IT WITH VOTER APPROVAL!!

May your fields be ripe and budding and your rivers full and flooding (because its the only time people pay attention).

 The Angry Citizen

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