City officials announced Monday that they will not waver in their adherence to local, state and federal guidelines that regulate improvements allowed within the municipality's floodplain.
As a result, returning to floodplain properties that received substantial damage will be costly for owners - if not impossible, according to city officials.
Ken Morris of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board said Monday that Miami officials have an “insurmountable task in front of them as they attempt to right the wrongs of previous administrations, referring to the numerous homes and businesses that were allowed to be rebuilt in the floodplain after the properties were damaged beyond 50 percent of their value in a 1986 flood.
Miami City Manager Michael Spurgeon said he can't answer as to why prior administrations did not adhere to guidelines 21 years ago.
Spurgeon indicated that Federal Emergency Management Agency officials did not cite the city for the the non-compliant improvements during an assessment in 2005, but did indicate verbally that the city must correct the problem when given an opportunity to do so.
“That time has come, Spurgeon said.
If the city ignores its responsibility, it could lose its eligibility to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program and could face future civil liability.
“These regulations have been placed upon us due to the city's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, city attorney Erik Johnson said. “In order to offer flood insurance to individuals in the affected flood area, we have agreed to certain guidelines that we must adhere - one of which is recognizing substantial damage.
According to the FEMA, substantial damage is defined as “damage of any origin sustained by a structure whereby the cost of restoring the structure to its before-damaged condition would equal or exceed 50 percent of the market value of the structure before the damage occurred.
As a rule of thumb, the city will follow FEMA's recommended benchmark as it begins to make initial property assessments.
“Property that receives 4 feet of water is a benchmark that FEMA uses in determining which properties, for purposes of flood insurance, are going to receive 100 percent compensation for flood damage, Johnson said. “My office, in conjunction with the city engineer's office, has adopted that same standard. Basically, if a property had more than 4 feet of flood water in it, we will be denying a building permit.
Property owners will have an opportunity to appeal the denials, first to the city engineer's office, then to the city's board of variance and, lastly, to a court of law.
“It is going to be a tough row to hoe, Johnson said. “For everyone involved But, if we allow a certain property to slide, we are not adhering to our floodplain regulations which are promulgated by FEMA, adopted by the state and our local permitting officials.
Johnson said the enforcement will be painful and there are going to be people who will be unhappy.
Property owners who want to continue business or residence within property deemed to be substantially damaged will have to substantially improve their properties to a level of compliance.
According to FEMA, all structures within the floodplain that are determined to be substantially damaged must be elevated to or above the level of the base flood elevation and meet other applicable program requirements.
“Had there been enforcement of floodplain regulations from all levels of government in 1986, we would not have this problem today, Johnson said. “We can't point the finger at any one person on this. But, it is our responsibility to make sure that we do not repeat the mistake.
Property assessments are expected to be ongoing for the next 60 to 90 days, according to city officials.