Temporary trailers and money for buyouts could be available for residents of flood-ravaged Pacific Junction and Mills County, Iowa.
The big question is: Are communities and residents interested?
Roughly 200 attended a meeting at Glenwood Community High School on Tuesday and peppered officials with questions about their options.
Dennis Harper, a recovery division administrator at the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, asked how many people in the audience were interested in a buyout.
Close to half raised their hands.
When levees along the Missouri River failed during historic flooding in March, several communities filled with water. Every single building in Pacific Junction was damaged.
Harper said there are typically two kinds of federal buyout programs: a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program that allows later development, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency program that doesn’t allow anything to be rebuilt.
Aimee Bartlett, a mitigation bureau chief with Iowa Homeland Security, said up to $20 million could be available for flood mitigation in Iowa, including buyouts. Areas hard hit by flooding near the Missouri River would be prioritized, she said.
“Where do you sign up?” one man called out.
There is a catch: Municipal governments have to sign off and help fund the buyouts. Funding is typically split: The federal government picks up 75% of the tab; the state, 10%; and local governments, 15%.
The state is talking with flood-affected communities like Pacific Junction to gauge interest in buyouts, Harper said. Some interest exists, but no applications have been submitted.
“We have seen cases before where a number of property owners have wanted to participate … and the city didn’t want to,” he said.
Buyouts can hurt a city’s population and tax base. Fewer than 500 people lived in Pacific Junction before the flood.
FEMA has also identified about 150 pad sites in Glenwood and Council Bluffs where temporary trailers, often referred to as FEMA trailers, could be placed, potentially by the end of June.
About 400 people displaced by flooding in Fremont and Mills County, Iowa, could be eligible. FEMA determines eligibility. Often, only about 10% of those eligible opt for a trailer, one official said.
“People are saying, ‘No thanks, I’m staying with a relative,’ ” said Tim Scranton, a federal coordinating officer with FEMA. “Staying with a relative, you might wear out your welcome. We have these, and they’re for you. Don’t be shy — let us help you.”
Pacific Junction resident Linda Harmon, 71, said she’s interested in both a trailer and a buyout. A FEMA agent told her that it could cost $183,000 to rebuild her home. Its assessed value is only about $113,000.
“I just want to go home, and I can’t,” she said.