Team Coverage: FEMA Floodplain Backlash

June 30, 2006 - Posted at 5:39 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, AR -- Mistakes were made but who made them?  Those are the questions being asked after the city of Jonesboro received word Wednesday to halt the issuing of building permits and certificates of occupancy within Jonesboro's floodplain. Now a number of current and potential projects could be on hold.

Two days after FEMA halted the issuing of building permits and certificates of occupancy in Jonesboro, Kohl's construction is on going.  However, only a day after the city council meeting, those involved were asking whose fault it was.

After receiving complaints dating back as long as twelve months ago about possible violations that may have occurred in the floodplain, FEMA has informed Jonesboro about its intentions to perform an audit and some are blaming the city.

When asked who is at blame Kohl's contractor Mike Cameron responded, "City Engineering Department and the Department of Public Works."

However, the city is adamant the oversights are being made by contractors and Bernie Auld, the engineer involved with both Kohl's and the Mall at Turtle Creek.

"You send FEMA what you propose to do, let them approve it or disapprove it before you start building," said City Engineer and head of the Public Works Department Claude Martin, "That's all we ask them to do and they didn't do it."

According to a source... the problem could be traced to an ongoing feud between Martin and Auld.  A feud that now has left a number of city construction projects in jeopardy.

"These news maps that are coming out, that city staff say they have never seen, all this property is back in," said Cameron One of the other areas in question was Temple Baptist Church.

Minister Jerry Jolly says he has been assured by the city and by his contractor, that while the property is located in the flood plain, the building isn't....meaning they are in the clear.

With building permits and certificates of occupancy in Jonesboro's floodplain put on hold....some are left wondering how changes in the floodplain could affect citizen's flood insurance. If the waters start to rise...just who will have to pay and how much?

"A flood zone means that you're in a place that is more likely to flood and there is a one percent chance that it's going to flood, or they take a look at that standard, or has it flooded in the last one 100 years," said State Farm Agent Ben Ford.

Craighead County participates in the National Association of Insurance.  That means the local government agrees to comply with the standards of the ordinance of building new  construction.

"FEMA designs the flood maps, the elevation, and those type things.  It's all done through the local government. No matter what company you go through, insurance company, you're going to get the same rate on a flood policy. Because the rates are all administrated through the federal government," said Ford.

Jonesboro's flood insurance rate maps haven't been updated since the early 90's and FEMA is scheduled to be back in town on the 19th to re-chart them.

Ford says this could benefit some citizens as it's likely that some folks will be moved out of the flood zones. But for the residents who will have to take on flood insurance, it could be costly.

"It could be anywhere from $300 on up. But, yes, it is a substantial amount for people who are trying to make a house payment, pay on the costs associated with normal home owners insurance and those type things," said Ford.

The city could also run the risk of being taken off of FEMA's flood insurance program all together. More will be known when FEMA audits the city on July 19th.

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