Ottawa County commissioners plan to ask the Grand River Dam Authority for $600,000 that will be used as part of a match for a $5.8 million grant to purchase and demolish homes in three residential communities that flooded in early July as the Neosho River rose to more than 29 feet above flood stage.
“We're going to talk with (GRDA Chief Executive Officer) Kevin Easley and (GRDA Board Chairman) Bob Sullivan and try to get them on board with this plan,” said Russell Earls, chairman of the county commission.
Earls said he was attempting to put together a deal that would also include $600,000 from the State of Oklahoma. Earls toured flooded areas of Ottawa County with Oklahoma Department of Commerce officials Wednesday.
“We were able to impress upon them that we don't want this to happen over and over and over again where we have people flooded out of their homes,” Earls said. “We need to get a process started where we can move these folks away from here or in two or three years we'll have all these houses occupied again and probably by lower income families who are renting because they are having trouble finding housing elsewhere in our community. We don't need to have people flooded out of their homes every few years.”
The state funds and the GRDA contribution would combine to provide a 25 percent match of federal funds. The federal contribution would amount to $4.6 million derived from a Federal Emergency Management Administration program aimed at providing relief to property owners who have been adversely affected by disaster.
When all sources of funding are combined, the amount the commissioners would have available for a buyout of about 120 residential property owners in the communities of Eastgate, Fountain East and Grand Lake Shores would total $5.8 million. The communities are located east of Miami and all flooded in early July.
Earls said both State Sen. Charles Wyrick (D-Fairland) and State Rep. Larry Glenn (D-Miami) support the plan.
“This would be a good deal and I think we can put it together,” Glenn said. “We need to obtain some money so we can move people out of (these communities) because flooding there is a repeated problem. We need to get something done to move people out of harm's way.”
Glenn said it was not clear if funding could be appropriated by the state this fiscal year. The state's next fiscal year doesn't begin until July of 2008.
“This is all very early,” he said. “We're just taking the first steps now.”
It is also not clear if the deal would amount to a negotiated settlement of legal claims some county residents might be able to make in court against GRDA, the operator of the Pensacola Dam. GRDA has been held liable in court for damages caused to property in previous floods.
“It could (be part of a settlement),” said first assistant district attorney Ben Loring, counsel to the commissioners. “We haven't had any talks with GRDA, but that could be something that is worked out in exchange for their contribution.”