News

Chico Creek flood victims told to ‘band together’

By PAUL BALCERAK

Staff writer

Help is on the way for three properties along Chico Creek damaged during the December 2007 floods and a big question mark remains for several others.

After a one-two punch of meetings Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, Kitsap County commissioners agreed to help three properties and their owners secure $250,000 in federal relief funds. The properties receiving the funds were recently deemed to pose an “imminent threat, or threat to life and property” by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS State Conservation Engineer Larry Johnson said Tuesday night.

NRCS is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

NRCS will bear 75 percent of the grant, while the county and homeowners will split the additional 25 percent.

Money from the county’s end will come from leftover funds from the Surface and Stormwater Management Program, Central Kitsap Commissioner Josh Brown said Thursday.

For several properties not qualified under the imminent threat clause, however, funding could be slow to come — if it comes at all.

During the Tuesday meeting at the Kitsap County Emergency Management building, Emergency Management Director Phillis Mann called on residents to form a “quasi-homeowners association” and “act collectively” in a last-ditch effort to get funding for their recovery efforts.

“The question is, ‘Can you all band together and fix your property?’” Mann said. “There is no magic grant (to repair property with).”

The Tuesday meeting was called to address homeowners’ concerns with flood recovery efforts. Many are struggling to cope with the loss of property because of erosion — a kind of loss that FEMA will not help recover.

“I definitely feel for private property owners who had their property damaged ... or lost through erosion,” Brown said.

The reasoning behind Mann’s suggestion of a homeowners association is that flood victims will be more likely to get money if they go after funds as a non-profit organization, she said. A homeowners association would be able to apply for a loan from the U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) which would offer a longer pay period and lower interest rate than a standard loan.

Mann pledged support from her department in helping the group obtain the proper forms and permits to get the association started. Establishing a homeowners association usually only takes a few days, she said.

If the group wants to apply for a loan, they’ll have to do so quickly; the Washington State Emergency Management Division and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have imposed a Feb. 7 deadline to register for disaster assistance.

“They all want to work together,” Mann said. “I think they’ll get it done.”

Mann also urged residents to appeal denials for FEMA funding, saying that people are more likely to get money that way.

FEMA officials generally low-ball their initial damage estimates and if people appeal their claims once a contractor has offered a “real estimate,” FEMA is usually quick to dispense the money, Mann said.

Kitsap County officials are in the process of preparing to accept the $250,000 NRCS grant. Once the grant is accepted, the county will only have 10 days to complete work — any longer and the money will be lost.

Mann said the county wants to line up all the details of the work — contracts, construction specs, permits, etc. — so everything will be ready to go as soon as the grant is accepted. That way, the county will be able to use the full 10-day period to complete work.

The county should be ready to accept the grant and start work sometime in the next two weeks, Mann said.

• Those who suffered property damage between Dec. 1 and Dec. 17 can apply for federal assistance through FEMA by calling (800) 621-FEMA (3362) or logging onto

www.fema.gov.

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