Ford City Officials Continue Floodplain Rates Battle

Gibson-Thomas Engineering Vice-President Ed Schmitt talks with Ford City Borough Council leaders regarding the floodplain insurance rates during their business meeting last night at the Latin American Club.

Gibson-Thomas Engineering Vice-President Ed Schmitt talks with Ford City Borough Council leaders regarding the floodplain insurance rates during their business meeting last night at the Latin American Club.

by Jonathan Weaver

For about a year, Ford City Borough business owners and homeowners have had to endure increased flood insurance costs after revised floodplain maps.

But, elected and engineering officials are continuing to try and bring those costs down.

Gibson-Thomas Engineering Vice-President Ed Schmitt said conference calls have been had with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials – including Region III Civil Engineer Nikki Roberts – about the issue.

“As you know, we’ve been trying to get some kind of commitment on their part to…re-rate the floodplain inside of the levy. We got some assurances that we could improve the situation relative to the overall-downtown area, but there will probably still be pockets that we can’t remove that criteria,” Schmitt said.

Schmitt estimated 50 percent of downtown Ford City could be excluded from having to pay the higher floodplain insurance rates.

“We tried to get some assurances that if we go forward with one of the projects that we’re talking about, that we might be able to eliminate the whole area. (FEMA) didn’t feel that would happen,” Schmitt said. “They felt that the levy was old enough that unless we did a complete re-certification of the levy, – which we already said was going to be very, very difficult and very, very expensive – you’ll still have some pockets affected by the higher rates.”

Borough officials are considering a storm sewer upgrade – which would reportedly cost about $2.15 million for engineering and construction. Potential funding is available for reimbursement from the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST) in August to combine with a $315,000 flood mitigation grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority the community received in October.

“Some folks who are spending hundreds of dollars for flood insurance might be happy to pay (an additional estimated-$5 a month for the upgrade),” Schmitt said. “Anytime there are additional funds out there, we’ll look at them.”

But, Schmitt cautioned borough officials that storm sewer mapping and delineation would have to be performed as early as March to have a completed set of designs and specifications in time for the application.

Council Vice-President Tyson Klukan said he has had local residents ask about their insurance rates for 2017. He has done an independent survey of affected residents.

“Some people, their flood insurance went up $52, $46, one went up $1,300. There are a couple businesses that went up $10,000, $20,000 in flood insurance,” Klukan said. “I think the ideal goal is to take the maximum percentage of town out of the 100-year flood map.”

Klukan – who brainstormed to possibly lead a town hall meeting on the topic -commended Schmitt and Gibson-Thomas Engineering’s Doug Siler for work during the past month and said elected officials will continue to “fight for the Borough.”

Schmitt said more insurance increases from local residents could go into the grant assistance application.

Councilman Marc Mantini called the increased insurance costs “a disaster for any community on water across the United States.”

“It’s going to discourage anybody from building or doing anything positive for communities on a body of water – Pittsburgh included,” Mantini said.

Even without the need to pay for insurance, the 50 percent excluded from paying for insurance would still be eligible for emergency assistance.

FEMA reportedly will be conducting another survey of the area during the next six months.