Red House on the Wapsi

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Release date: 
June 6, 2001
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Bob and Joni Hocken don't plan to let the muddy waters of the Wapsipinicon River drive them from their Independence, Iowa, home again.

Twice in 1999-first in May and later in July- the "Wapsi" as the river is known locally, flooded the Hocken's 100-year-old home. Both were traumatic experiences, Joni Hocken said, but the May flooding was worse. Spring planting had just taken place so the river brought with it large quantities of mud and silt and had an odor she'll never forget. At its highest, the brown water flooded the first floor to a depth of 46 inches, soaking carpeting, furniture and personal items. Even food, stacked on the kitchen counter, thought by Bob and Joni to be out of harm's way, got wet.

They'd just managed to mop up that damage when the river flooded again two months later, although not quite as bad as it did in May. "You need a positive attitude to make it through something like this," Joni said.

Bob and Joni, both Iowa natives, thought about taking advantage of a "buyout" the city was offering using federal and state funding made available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Iowa Emergency Management Division. Buyouts in Independence began in 1993. Thus far, 28 families opted for buyouts and moved out of the floodplain. However, a severe housing shortage forced many of them to move away from town. The Hockens wanted to stay in Independence.

Independence, a town of 6,000 residents and the county seat for Buchanan County, was settled in 1847. Its vibrant downtown is surrounded by large single-family homes with big lawns and old trees. The Wapsipinicon Mill, severely damaged by flooding in 1999, dominates the west end of First Street.

The Wapsi has repeatedly proven itself a devastating river for this community. Between 1968 and 1999 it flowed out of its banks 11 times. After the Midwest Flood of 1993, the community decided enough was enough. Repeated flooding was becoming a severe drain on resources so the community opted to participate in a buyout program under FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, as provided under the guidelines of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief Act. This program provides additional federal funds to the State of Iowa to fund community projects to lessen or mitigate damage from future disasters. Following the 1993 Midwest floods, Iowa used this funding to acquire many floodplain properties.

In the end Bob and Joni couldn't bring themselves to sell their home of 27 years. They had raised their two children, Robbie and Kelley, in that home and their three grandchildren are often about the place. Dates, names, and height marks on a door frame provide a visible link between the house and the Hocken family.

Because the Hocken's floodplain home sustained substantial damage, defined as more than 50% of its market value, they qualified for an additional flood insurance benefit. This benefit is spelled out in a provision of the National Flood Insurance Program called Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC).

Under ICC, homeowners in the floodplain may qualify for an additional payment of up to $20,000, to elevate, relocate or demolish their substantially damaged structure. All mitigation actions must comply with local floodplain laws and ordinances. In the Hocken's case, their home was elevated and is being reconstructed using a combination of funds - claim payment funds from their regular flood insurance coverage, the additional ICC funds, and their own money.

Once they decided moving wasn't an option, Bob and Joni decided to take the necessary step of elevating their home out of the 100-year floodplain. To further protect it, they moved it 50 feet back from the bank of the Wapsi and elevated the living area above the projected 100-year flood elevation.

At first, Joni said, neighbors were intrigued by the spectacle of a two-story home going u...

Last Updated: 
July 19, 2012 - 23:02
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