Ottawa County officials decided this week that they will not follow the City of Miami's lead and increase the benchmark for determining substantial damage of flooded properties.

“To change anything at this point will be too confusing,” said Ottawa County Commission Chairman Russell Earls. “We are going to proceed just as we have.”

Michael Payton, the county's floodplain administrator, said he is using a “case-by-case” approach in determining damages and is not leaning too hard on any benchmark.

Payton makes an initial determination upon visual inspection of flooded properties as to whether or not the home has suffered damage in excess of 50 percent of the home value.

“If I believe the damage is less than 50 percent, I issue a permit for construction right then,” Payton said.

If the property does appear to have substantial damage, and the property owner agrees, the property owner and Payton sign a document confirming the substantial damage.

Substantial damage, as defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is declaired when the cost to repair a property exceeds more than half the home value.

Property owners who want to proceed with construction, despite an initial determination of substantial damage, can appeal the decision and plead for an exception.

The appeal process begins with presentation of a certified pre-flood fair market value property appraisal and a licensed construction company's detailed cost estimate to repair the damage.

“If the property owner can show me that the damage does not exceed 50 percent, I will issue a permit for construction,” Payton said.

If the property owner and the floodplain administrator still cannot agree on substantial damage, the property owner may still seek a variance from the Ottawa County Floodplain Board. The appeal can progress from there to the county excise board and, lastly, to district court.

“The important thing that people need to know is that they can't do any type of construction or demolition on their property without a permit,” District Attorney Eddie Wyant said. “Those who violate the permitting process face $500 fine and up to one year in jail. Each day in violation is a new and separate offense.”

For more information regarding assessments of properties in Ottawa County, contact the office of the Ottawa County Floodplain Administrator at 542-9408.