Saturday, June 21, 2008

Flood Relief Meeting Liveblog

Flood Relief Meeting Liveblog

Hundreds of Normandy Drive neighbors here at the Iowa City Libramy for FEMA info. (Still not as many as we had caucus night). City, church, FEMA and congressional folks are here for stage one of rebuilding.

I suspect this won't be the most readable thing; just the easiest way for me to take notes.

"We got evacuated," says Holly Berkowitz. "A foot of water in the house." Roberta Till-Retz and Jae Retz were luckier: "Just in the basement."

At 3:12 we begin. "I know many of you now by your elevation," Says Steve McGuire ("I'm 651.8" which isn't a good thing.) "People are struggling with where to stay, let alone where to begin." "This is the first of what I imagine to be several meetings. No decisions have been made about anything."

The body count looks like 200 or so.

Regenia Bailey: "If we approach this with the same attitude and collective effort we did with the sandbagging, we're going to be OK." She's withdrawn some evac orders. ("Why not all," someone mutters.) City staff is touring area and making assessments. People are beginning to re-enter on foot.

Video of damage. The nighborhood has set up its own web site, PVTFloodResponse (that's Park View Terrace, not "private". A nicer nickname that the old "Mosquito Flats.")

Some people are being politely asked to clear out to make space for those most directly affected.

Q and A. Margaret Cook asks about temporary property tax relief, and will the city remove the sandbags. "Do we rebuild? W need to make that decision in the next month or so." City Manager Mike Lombardo: "Temporary tax relief would take an act of the city council and would have to be consistent with state law." No blanket answer on rebuilding. Lombardo just started the city manager job about two weeks ago. Welcome to Iowa City. Rick Foss: City plans to pick up bags, but not sure how to get to curb. City needs to prioritize contents of homes vs. sandbags: "CONTENTS," says the whole crowd at once. Dave Wilson, Johnson County Emer Management, says at least 6 million sandbags in the county. "Not all of them got wet. We were extremely proactive down here and suffered no major loss of infrastructure and no loss of life."

"Don't be in a hurry to get rid of the sandbags," says Foss. By Tues. afternoon, water should drop below the spillway. "I doubt that our property values have gone up in the last month," says one guy to applause.

Deb Neff asks about water bills based on interior vs. exterior. "It's minor but every nickel is going to help all of us." Rick Foss says they'll keep folks updated on utilities, still need to hold off on usage. Lombardo says adjusting rates will be similar to tax cuts.

"Process questions: what's next?" FEMA representative: 1/2 to 3/4 of the neighborhood has filed by phone already. There's a filing center at the fairgrounds, also small business and IRS filing. Many people muttering that they registered by phone but have not received FEMA packet yet; FEMA rep says 3-5 days. People hollering that they got their packet but it doesn't have filing info. "Can we put a link on the site?" McGuire asks his webmaster.

The questions seem to be getting faster and more intense. They get to teh chase: you get two packets in mail: a white one from FEMA and a brown one from SBA. FEMA will also send someone to your home. Fill out and return home loan app. Or go to the FEMA center, fill it out, turn it in. Takes 20-30 minutes. Up to $240,000 available in two chunks. You can file your claim even if you're still flooded.

"Why do we want to rebuild? Why do I want to take out a loan on property that might flood out again next year." City says they're not expecing to give any homes a "red placard" indicating it's structurally unsafe. Most will be limited re-entry with some repair (mostly electrical) needed before re-occupancy.

Jeff Davidson: "Document everything. Photos, receipts."

Water in basement: Pump down a foot at a time, wait an hour. Make sure it's not coming back in. Also shut off water before they test it. Ed Moreno: There was a water main break on Taft as the water came up. With water receding, they'll pressurize and flush system, starting that process today "If we turn the water on and it's flowing, we'll think there's a leak in the system."

Loebsack's here.

Who should be pumping sewage-filled basements: professionals or homeowners? No one wants to touch the question. They can't start the lift station yet, and don't want to cuse structural damage to homes. Ground water and river levels need to stabilize. "At this stage, a little more contaminated wate in the neighborhood isn't going to make much difference." Be careful in the neighborhood.

"It's going to be a long process, no doubt about it. I've tried to do everything I could in Washington to get all the assistance that Iowans deserve. All seven of us have been working in a bipartisan manner. The 2nd District is by far the hardest hit, so my office has been taking the lead in the House." He's canceling trip to Iraq/Afghanistan to work here. "I know what I'm doing when I'm back. It won't be sandbagging, but it'll be cleanup." Offers to help but notes bad back. "We got the president up to 2.65 billion. But we have no idea how much this will cost yet."

Loebsack was just in Oakville, going to CR and Palo. 866-914-IOWA is office toll free number. "For some months to come, the district staff and I will be working almost exclusively on this." "Things are going to be even better than they were before, no doubt about it."

Resident: What if we're in the middle of rebuilding when there's a buyout offer, and how should that affect our decisions? "Should we start rebuilding if we don't know for sure if we're going to be bought out?" Also, why can't we use boats like we did in 1993 (applause)? Lombardo: We're still gathering info on buyout programs, will do it soon as we can. Boat decision was based on flow rate and public safety staff. "What about NOW," asks everyone. They want to get in bad. Lombardo sticks to the public safety staff point. "Automobile access should be in the next day or two."

FEMA: Flood insurance shouldn't affect buyout; if there is one, it's at pre-flood market value.

"Are we expendible when it comes to a flood?" (605 Eastmoor) (Muttered: "They raised the water plant, they don't care about us anymore.") We're going to meet about hydrology, says McGuire; "We don't have a representative from the Corps" to much sarcastic laughter. Bailey: There's non-car access during daylight hours except for five lots on Normandy Drive. People want to know ASAP; she hands out her cell phone number.

"I don't understand why pumps haven't been put on Normandy Drive yet." (applause.) Put pumps at the two low spots. Foss: Until water stops flowing, pumps are just circular. They pulled some sandbags to allow drainage.

Lucille Gregory: what about seniors who'll have trouble with the physical labor? Bailey: many people want to come in and help out, United Way is coordinating and matching people with volunteers.

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