Blackiston Mill residents turn to town council for flooding answers

2018-03-07 | The Evening News and The Tribune

March 07--CLARKSVILLE -- Clarksville residents most affected by the recent flooding took advantage of Tuesday's town council meeting to get answers to their questions.

At the end of February, the Ohio River and Silver Creek rose to nearly historic levels and stayed there for several days. The water has since receded, but the damage to many area homes is more permanent. Though the Clarksville Town Council wasn't scheduled to vote on anything flood-related, citizens used the public comment section to benefit from the knowledge in the room.

"I want to start by saying we appreciate everything you all [have] done for us. You all been great," said Portia Nixe, a resident of Blackiston Mill Road, an area heavily affected by Silver Creek floodwaters. Nixe explained she had been designated to ask questions on behalf of several members in the audience, all of whom live along the flooded road. "... We want to know what our options are ... when will FEMA be in the area, what kind of assistance will we get. We hear a lot about not [being] able to rebuild and we need to know if we are going to be able to rebuild, if we are going to have to raise our homes, what kind of assistance is out there for that. Will FEMA help raise our homes, if that's the case."

Nixe said many of the residents with her at the meeting had been through flooding before and were "too old" to rebuild. She said they were going to "stand together" and if the town or FEMA should want to buy them out of their homes for a fair price, they were all going to "stand together."

According to Tom Clevidence, town engineer, before FEMA can help anyone, many steps must be taken, all of which lead to the Oval Office at the White House. Clevidence explained that the emergency manager for the county must collect field damage assessments from Utica, Jeffersonville, Clarksville and the unincorporated area in the county that was affected. That information must be compiled and sent to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, along with the same information from the 17 other Indiana counties affected. The governor will then issue a disaster declaration to President Trump, who must sign it before FEMA can do anything, Clevidence said.

"That's where we are right now as far as FEMA is concerned. We are waiting just the same as everyone else," he said. "If and when FEMA is here, which I do believe they will come, no one knows to what extent [they'll help]. They don't know what they'll bring with them, if they're going to offer a buyout, or if they're just going to say 'Hey, look, we are here to help with some things with the actual relief but not necessarily buy-outs...'"

Brittany Montgomery, Clarksville utility director, also weighed in. According to Montgomery, the town will send out letters in the next few days to residents on the road letting them know if they do have to elevate their homes and, if they do, how much it is expected to cost.

Elevation and any repair work involving contractors can be risky, Rick Barr, building commissioner for the town, said. Barr suggested those residents at the meeting check with his office for a list of professionals who are licensed with the town. "We don't tell you who to use but we are more than happy to let you pick and choose from that list," he said. Permits are still required for general construction and other types of work, but no fees will be charged, he said.

In other council business:

--The council unanimously approved a 3 percent raise for the town's police officers.

--Council voted 6-0, with one abstention, on the first reading of a tax increase for the Cumulative Firefighting and Building Fund. Council member A.D. Stonecipher abstained from voting on the increase. Taxes are currently collected at $0.0183 per $100 of assessed valuation; if approved, taxes would increase to $0.0333 per $100 of assessed valuation, generating an additional $70,000 in funds annually. The additional money would balance the fire budget after the purchase of a 2015 Rosenbauer Rescue pumper. There will be a second reading on the tax increase at the next meeting.

--Council voted 6-1 on the first reading of a tax increase for the Parks Cumulative Building Parks Fund. Stonecipher voted against the increase. Taxes are currently collected at $0.0101 per $100 of assessed value. This increase would raise that rate to $0.0167. The increase would bring in an additional $51,000 annually. There will be a second reading by the council at the next meeting.

--A resolution to use eminent domain to acquire a property the town plans to use to give residents easier access to green space was postponed. Town officials have been trying to acquire the 22-acre former railroad property south of Lewis and Clark Parkway between Applegate Lane and Silver Creek for months, most recently offering $575,125 to owner CSX in late December. The company turned down the offer and the town turned to eminent domain.

On Tuesday, no one spoke against the town acquiring the property during a scheduled public hearing. The council was scheduled to vote on the matter, but town attorney Chris Sturgeon said he wanted to wait, noting that he's spoken with the CSX attorney and the two attorneys want to discuss things further.

Erin Walden is the education reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at erin.walden@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2152. Follow her on Twitter: @ErinWithAnEr.