Flood proposal panned by some homeowners who want return to 1994 levels
The latest plans to fix the flood issues surrounding Weddington’s Optimist Park don’t impress nearby homeowners. Officials from the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association held a joint meeting with homeowners, Union County and town officials Tuesday, Sept. 27 at Weddington Town Hall, but it seemed to do little to ease the concerns of neighbors.
Union County and Weddington jointly hired Ernest Abbot with FEMA Law Associates, an attorney who specializes in disaster relief, to assist in presenting a flood mitigation plan to the Flood Insurance and Mitigation Administration, the federal agency that administers the national flood insurance program and compliance to floodplain management, a division of Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The county and the town have both agreed to participate in the national flood insurance program” Abbot said to the crowd of 25 people. “But the federal government said it would not offer [flood] insurance in communities that doesn’t adopt and enforce floodplain management regulations.”
Abbott outlined the possible consequences should FIMA decide that the county or Weddington had failed to enforce floodplain regulations in the park’s construction.
Flood insurance officials “could put the communities on probation which means every flood insurance policy owner pays a $50 premium per year, while the jurisdictions struggled to figure out how to fix the problem” Abbot said. “Or suspend the county and the town from the [flood insurance] program, which means no insurance can be sold or renewed for flood protection and there won’t be flood disaster assistance available for most programs that FIMA provides.”
In 2005, the county issued a notice of violation to the WCWAA as a result of complaints by neighboring residents.
“For the past four years the park owners and its engineering firm had submitted eight engineering studies that showed that there had not been any impact on flood rises” Abbott said. “This seemed to fly in the face of what people had been experiencing, there was a very close review of those engineering studies and each case there was some modeling problems and data problems that would not withstand scrutiny and really demonstrated that the problem wasn’t solved.”
Two years ago the state insisted that the town and the county hire an engineer to do an analysis. In 2010, in a report by US Infrastructure, established there had been very significant fill used to build the park. USI developed a number of different mediation plans to reduce the flood levels to pre-construction levels, but the cost of the proposals were so high that it was unlikely that the park could afford to implement the plans as the plans would require the removing of two ball fields.
USI developed more than 20 mitigation proposals that would reduce the flood rise to varying degrees but not all the way to zero.
“The challenge that you have is that while we’d like to get back to a no rise condition,” Abbott said, “but if you make a requirement that nobody can afford – then nothing will happen and there will be no benefit at all.”
Abbott noted that there is no formal process with FIMA, it is a strictly to compliance process.
“You go hat in hand to FEMA and say I agree to enforce floodplain management regulations,” Abbott said. “This thing happened, I won’t do it again and here is what we’re doing to mitigate the problem the best we can. Please don’t hurt to residents of the town or the County by kicking them out of the [flood insurance] plan.”
WCWAA plan met with concern
After Mr. Abbott completed his remarks, athletic association attorney Chris Duggan introduced Christopher Isaacs, the president of the Isaacs Group, a Charlotte based engineering firm hired by the park to develop the plan to mitigate the flooding affecting the neighboring properties.
“There is a 30 to 40 percent increase discharge due to upstream development; new modeling that the park had nothing to do with,” Isaacs said. “We looked at a variety of possibilities, we looked at costs and a cost analysis with the park to arrive in a mitigation solution that carried the maximum benefits within the financial means of the park.”
“What we’re proposing is two areas a mitigation; one which is existing gravel parking lot and the other is large area practice field.” Isaacs said, “The proposal is to go in and lower the grade 2 to 4 feet, remove the excess material, the benefit of doing that is lowering the existing floodway, better hydraulic capacity for the stream, which turn has an effect on flooding. From area number two, we are removing 8 to 10,000 cubic yards of fill that was placed. As he spoke, Mr. Isaac indicated on the a map a large parking lot which lies between a soccer and baseball fields and a the three acre field that lies beyond the baseball diamonds, close to a tree line.
At one point where it became clear that the proposal would not return area to pre-park flood levels, homeowner Mike Corrigan said, “I don’t want leave here and get a lawyer to start suing you guys.”
When Mr. Isaacs was asked what effect the mitigation plan would have on the flood levels he said based on the 1994 maps the flood level would be 7 to 9 tenths of a foot, but based on the current 2008 flood maps, the reduction to the flood level was much more dramatic.
Homeowner Wayne Griffin complained that the floodplain has encroached on his property by 75 feet. “Now, I can’t even get a permit to add on to my barn because it’s in the floodplain,” Griffin said.
Residents asked Abbott what issues federal officials will consider at when making a decision about the mitigation plan. He responded that a key concern would be whether any homes are actually in the floodplain.
Isaacs assured the homeowner that once the mitigation is complete; their homes would not be in the floodplain.