Flood Buyout Eases Homeowners

POLK COUNTY, IA – Charlene Ostreko has seen floodwaters pour into her home more than once in the 35 years she and her husband have lived there. Flooding has occurred after major storm events have forced the nearby Four Mile Creek over its banks. The Ostrekos would always clean up, repair damages, and resume their lives.

“Our 14 by 24-foot home, located just five miles from downtown Des Moines had a parklike setting with nearly two acres; the house was surrounded by woods, filled with wildlife and animals. A huge oak tree stood in the front yard as well as an assortment of plants and flowers. My husband and I planned on living there for many years to come, along with our three cats and two dogs. We even invested $20,000 in renovations,” said Ostreko.

“Prior to 2008, major storms would cause the Des Moines River and its tributaries to swell, forcing the creek to pour several feet of floodwater into our basement. The bedroom, the furnace, and water heater were located in the basement and had to be replaced several times. After a while, my husband and I would move furniture out and shut off the power with advance flood warnings. We learned to down-size and grab-and-run,” added Ostreko.

By early June 2008, after nearly 2 weeks of rain that produced a statewide average of 9.03 inches, the Des Moines River had stretched Four Mile Creek more than 6 feet above flood stage. The normal average for the period is 2.45 inches.

“Our house flooded three times in 2008. The water rushed into the house really fast during the storm. By the time I got home, the basement was flooded with over five feet of water. I never expected what I saw - muck and dirt everywhere. This time the water was much higher, we lost everything down there,” stated Ostreko.

The event resulted in a Presidential Disaster Declaration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the City of Des Moines mitigation funds to help protect its citizens and lessen the impact of flooding in the community. The solution at Four Mile Creek was “to offer homeowners pre-flood, fair-market value of property and clear the at-risk homes out of the lowlying area.”

“The flood buyout program is extremely important to communities. It gives property owners the option to move from flood hazard areas. It reduces the amount of property damages and expenses from flooding which ultimately impact the city’s flood insurance ratings,” said Contracts and Closing Specialist, Eric L. Skinner, with the City of Des Moines’ Engineering Department.

Despite having incurred serious flood damages, the Ostrekos were still a little concerned about participating in the voluntary buyout program.

“Even though we agreed to join the program, I was scared of the idea of starting over. When we bought the house in 1973, we sat in the backyard and shook hands with the seller to close the deal. The buyout program involved lots of paperwork, time, and patience. Local officials were always knowledgeable and were there for me whenever I had questions about anything or just needed to cry,” added Ostreko.

“With help from the City of Des Moines, the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division, and FEMA, we bought a much nicer house on higher grounds. We now have two bedrooms and two bathrooms all located on the same floor. And there’s a huge old magnolia tree in the front yard,” said Ostreko.

In all, the total flood buyout program resulting from the 2008 disaster includes 17 severely damaged properties along the Four Mile Creek area at a total acquisition cost of $1,082,605. FEMA contributed 75 percent with $811,954 through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HGMP). The remaining funds came from the State of Iowa, the City of Des Moines, and the Community Development Block Grant Program. The Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division administered the funds.

As part of the federal buyout program, the area is deed restricted and cannot be developed with permanent structures in the future. Homes have been cleared away and an abundance of wildlife is still evident in the area. The city plans to eventually use the area for conservation purposes or to build a public park.

“It’s good to see that the city maintains the property,” stated Ostreko.

In 2010, the state received three additional federal disaster declarations resulting from winter storms in January, severe storms in May, and severe storms, flooding, and tornadoes from June 1 through August 31. Rivers and creeks exceeded the flood stage in some areas, upwards of 6 feet or more, contributing to another record flood - another “big one.”

The City of Des Moines suffered the most impact during early August 2010. Hundreds of people evacuated their homes, homes and property were destroyed, and one fatality occurred in the area. Again, floodwaters inundated the total buyout area along Four Mile Creek and, thankfully, many homes had been cleared out. City officials are steadfast with extensive plans to incorporate other flood-prone properties in the area for additional buyout programs to help mitigate the hazard.

Since 1993, including the Great Midwestern Floods of 1993 that wrought disaster to the region with astronomical flooding, Iowa has received a total of 21 federal declarations.

“After the recent storms, I went back to the old place and could see that floodwaters would have reached over eight feet into the old house. The basement would have been completely covered and part of the main level as well. I hugged the huge old oak tree and somehow being there was not the same,” said Ostreko. “I fought the program at first, and now I feel fortunate the buyout actually happened.”

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