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Floundering to meet flood rules

After getting tangled in red tape, Guy Seymour hopes the worst is over after being forced by the city of Shady Cove to spend money to flood-proof his log home.

He hired a contractor to rip out carpet in his basement, removed walls and cut in flood vents in his concrete block foundation.

"I've been spending a fortune on it," said the 89-year-old Highway 62 resident, who is awaiting the final bill.

Seymour is one of 17 residents in Shady Cove with a Feb. 29 deadline from the city, which is under pressure to comply with federal flood control rules.

Shady Cove was placed on probation Nov. 2 by the National Flood Insurance Program. The probationary status adds a yearly $50 surcharge to flood insurance premiums.

If the city doesn't show it has made a substantial effort by May to bring these homes into compliance, it could be suspended from the NFIP, which would mean flood insurance would not be available to residents.

The problem homes are located in areas that have been flooded previously and are required to have all electrical equipment above the base flood elevation. In addition, they are required to have venting that allows floodwaters to exit from the basement areas.

Shady Cove Mayor Ruth Keith said that without the flood insurance required by mortgage companies, it could jeopardize loans and potentially result in lower property values in town.

"That would be a disaster for us to be removed from the NFIP," she said.

That's not the worst part — if the city loses its NFIP status, Shady Cove might not get federal assistance if there was a major flood, she said.

"Wouldn't it be egg on our face if we didn't do something about it," Keith said.

Getting residents to comply hasn't been easy. Many live part of the year in other states, others are elderly and some have serious illnesses.

"It's a real dilemma," said Keith.

Although there has been a lot of finger-pointing, Keith said, "We all share this blame."

The city doesn't yet know how many homeowners have completed the work, but many homeowners say they are still confused about what's required of them.

Seymour, who points to the high water mark on a tree from the big 1964 flood, said he kept asking for an itemized list of repairs he needed to make so he could hire a contractor.

"I couldn't get FEMA to give me anything in writing," he said.

When he built his house in 1993, Seymour said he received all the necessary permits at the time. He even installed flood vents, but has been told they aren't adequate.

He had new, larger vents installed that were a little lower down to comply with government's demands. The vents allow water to flow through a basement area during a flood.

William Reinhard, who lives on Steelhead Place, said, "I'm very upset about this situation."

He said he's received pictures showing the problems at his house that include a furnace, heat exchanger, refrigerator and freezer that are installed below the base flood line. According to the city, he also has insufficient flood vents.

Reinhard said the only problem with the pictures is that they weren't taken on his property.

Reinhard moved into his house in 2005 from California. "I moved up here to get away from all the baloney you get in the big cities," he said.

With so many other disasters that have occurred in the United States, Reinhard wonders why the government is so concerned about a few houses in Shady Cove.

Referring to FEMA, he said, "You see how an agency has mishandled everything it's touched."

Martin Lew built his Rene Drive home in 1987 and put in vents to allow floodwaters to exit.

Then in 2000, he said he was notified that the vents were too high. Lew got permits and put in new vents, but now he's been getting conflicting opinions whether he has enough vents.

"I'm just trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do," he said.

Lew said he's trying his best to comply with the city and he's moved his water heater and heat pump.

Joe Strahl, president of Public Works Management, a private company hired by the city, said it has been difficult and expensive for residents.

"Some of the residents have said the compliance requests are just too expensive for them to undertake," he said.

Officials will continue to work with these people to see if a solution can be found, said Strahl.

Some property owners are continuing to show they don't want to resolve these issues. Strahl said the city could take legal action eventually to enforce the regulations.

Strahl said he will continue to work with residents to resolve issues about what they need to do to be in compliance with federal rules.

Despite a few problems that still remain, Strahl said, "I think we are making a lot of progress."

Though the city has the Feb. 29 deadline, Strahl referred to it as "loose."

The more important deadline is May 2, when FEMA officials review the city's efforts, he said.

Mark Carey, mitigation division director for FEMA, said Shady Cove appears to be making progress and has been working diligently to bring properties into compliance.

"I think FEMA is generally pleased with the amount of attention given to this issue," he said.

He couldn't say what would happen if there were still some property owners who refuse or can't do the work, other than to say FEMA will be looking for "substantial progress."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Guy Seymour is one of 17 Shady Cove residents with a deadline from the city to prepare their homes for possible future flooding. - Bob Pennell