More than a month after historic flooding devastated south Fremont and surrounding areas, the City of Fremont continues the process of determining the damage to homes and businesses within its jurisdiction.
A total of 1,218 inspections of structures within the city limits and a two-mile extra-territorial jurisdiction have been completed by city building officials, with recent figures showing that red placards remain on 292 structures, yellow placards on 492 structures, and green placards on 434 structures.
While the number of structures that received red placards has topped out at nearly 300, City Administrator Brian Newton said the number of structures that have received a “substantial damage determination” is surprisingly low.
“Despite everything, it’s good to hear,” he said.
As of Tuesday, only four structures had received a substantial damage determination — which are made when repairs cost more than 50 percent of market value.
Of the four structures that received substantial damage determinations, Newton said that could change by way of property owners receiving updated private appraisals.
“We only use the assessed value initially, so they can still provide us with a true market value with an appraisal,” he said.
The city uses the Dodge County assessed value of properties to make the substantial damage determination, which oftentimes only represents about 70 percent of the structure’s total assessed value.
Property owners can also hire a certified assessor to estimate the full market value of their properties, which could lead to substantial damage determinations to be overturned if the assessed value brings estimated repairs below the 50 percent threshold.
Although much work will still need to be done to repair homes and businesses affected by flooding, the fact that so few have received a substantial damage determination bodes well in terms of the overall number of structures that may ultimately be condemned, or forced to undergo significant renovations to move them up and out of the floodplain.
The substantial damage determinations are made by the city through a three-step process.
The three-step process includes the inspection and placarding of homes and businesses to determine flood damage. Property owners then furnish the city with estimates of repairs to bring structures back to pre-flood condition.
The city then compares those estimates against the market value of the structure to determine if the damage is substantial.
If structures receive a substantial damage determination, property owners will not be issued permits for repairs unless the properties are brought out of the floodplain — which often involves putting a structure on stilts or filling in basements.
Recent figures released by the city show that 185 estimates for repair costs have been received from property owners and 105 substantial damage determinations have been conducted by the city.
Of those, 88 determinations have been approved with permits granted — meaning estimated repair costs came in at under 50 percent of market value.
According to Newton, the city has brought in an outside inspector from Omaha to help move the process along which he estimated would last several more weeks.
“We are probably about two weeks out and we would rather be a week out, but I think he’ll help get us caught back up,” he said.
Newton added that on Monday the city received no new estimates from property owners despite the high numbers of red and yellow placarded structures that will be required to go through substantial damage designation process before permits can be granted.
“It is really starting to slow down, so we think in another week or two we will have to probably go and check and find out how come we haven’t gotten estimates,” he said.
Newton thanked Chief Building Inspector and FEMA Floodplain Manager Don Simon and his team for their efforts during the past month, and asked for continued patience from residents and property owners currently going through the process.
The substantial damage determination process, which calls for all homes in flood affected areas to be inspected, placarded, quoted and assessed, is a requirement by FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program, Newton said.
“We do this simply because in order to get flood insurance in Fremont we have to participate in these types of programs,” he said. “Unless we follow these rules, people wouldn’t even be able to buy flood insurance through the NFIP.”
According to FEMA, communities that participate in the NFIP or allow residents to purchase flood insurance from NFIP, must have substantial damage determination rules and regulations in place.
Newton also said that following the protocol set forth by FEMA also ensures that the City of Fremont will not lose out on federal public assistance.
“If we don’t follow the rules, that means potentially millions of dollars we (City of Fremont) would not be eligible for,” he said.
The city has also been pursuing potential options to provide temporary housing to residents affected by the flood, and while Newton says they have found trailers that could be used as temporary housing — it has been difficult to find a place to put them.
Newton said the city has been in contact with a company from North Dakota that provides temporary workforce housing for the oil and gas industry.
“There is a company that has 10 trailers that they use for man camps during oil and gas booms,” he said. “They move in these temporary man camps and they use them and sell them, or move them to the next place.”
While the trailers could theoretically provide temporary housing here in Fremont, Newton said the city has struggled to find an adequate area that has gas and electric infrastructure in place that would make them habitable.
“We just don’t have a lot of places with that kind of infrastructure already in place,” he said.