Legislation sought to help flood plain residents

Recently proposed statewide legislation by the Mount Trempealeau Corporation (MTC) is seeking to help non-FEMA-conforming homeowners located within state floodplains. LRB 3385 and 5034, which will be discussed in a Wisconsin State Assembly meeting this Thursday, would eliminate existing Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules pertaining to cost limitations of projects to flood-proof homes in the floodplain.

Under current DNR rules, municipalities are limited in allowing projects on homes within the floodplain to projects that would not exceed 50 percent of the value of the structure when combined with the value of all other projects done over the lifespan of that home. These rules apply even if these potential improvements would help in flood-proofing the home under FEMA regulations, and even if the improvements are on an already-FEMA-compliant home. Deb Ondell, owner of one of the 79 properties located within the floodplain in Trempealeau alone, said the legislation would help her non-FEMA-conforming home. Her property is one of many statewide that predates the institution of federal and state floodplain building guidelines instituted in 1968. "(My property) is going to flood, we know that," Ondell said. "We want to elevate that so it is out of the flooding waters, out of the base flooding elevation." Base flooding elevation (BFE) is a FEMA-computed height for the anticipated flood level of a base or "100-year" flood. Ondell added that last spring, as high floodwaters hit across the county, that flood insurance helped, but not as much as elevating her home above the BFE would have. "The assessors came in and said we had to gut our first floor, and awarded us a check. By elevating we will be taking ourselves out of the way and saving taxpayers' dollars by taking ourselves out of harm's way," Ondell said.

Language within the legislation limits construction activity to work that would result in "the repair, reconstruction, or improvement of a nonconforming building" so that it becomes "permanently changed to be a conforming building in compliance" with state and federal guidelines. It also specifies that improvements may not be prohibited by the state based on cost. Ondell, who has been actively involved with MTC and the progress of the legislation, says it has bi-partisan support among legislators and community members as they have become aware of their efforts. The bill has no negative environmental impact, and no financial obligations to the State of Wisconsin would be required either. She added that it would be a revenue generator for local municipalities across the state as it would remove the 50 percent cap to maximize property tax value, while allowing homeowners the flexibility to protect their nonconforming homes. "It is definitely not just for this area, it will affect the whole state," Ondell said. "At this point going forward, we need to spread the word across the state and get them to contact their legislative reps to help get it passed."

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