Government, Real Estate, and Sustainability

$14M to meet city’s floodwall conditions

Improvements would have positive impact on insurance requirements.

July 3, 2015
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, released its draft report, Levee Analysis and Mapping Plan for the Grand River in the City of Grand Rapids, last week, which provides the city with information on necessary improvements to meet the organization’s floodwall requirements.

Grand Rapids was one of 25 pilot communities across the nation to take part in the levee analysis and mapping process, or LAMP, with FEMA.

Based on the determinations from the process, the city needs to invest $14 million to receive the necessary designation from FEMA to ensure residents and businesses along the river are not required to purchase mandatory flood insurance, saving them thousands of dollars in insurance costs.

“If we didn’t do the work, residents who don’t currently need flood insurance would,” explained Deputy City Manager Eric DeLong.

“Most businesses that have bank loans have all-risks insurance so it won’t change much for businesses, but it will help prevent costly new insurance requirements for others, and if insurance is required, it will be less expensive.”

The reason for the change is that following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA instituted new and higher standards for floodwall protection.

“Our flood walls, while they met the 100-year flood stage, did not provide three feet of freeboard,” DeLong said. “FEMA decided that their regulatory scheme needed to be amended to account for cities like ours that met the 100-year flood stage but did not provide three feet of freeboard.”

The city entered into the LAMP process with FEMA to determine if it could achieve the organization’s Flood Zone D, or freeboard-deficient status.

Freeboard-deficient status is granted by FEMA if floodwall height is at least equal to a 1 percent chance flood, also known as the 100-year flood stage.

“The good news is we can and will, if we do the work required,” DeLong said.

That work includes raising the height of some of the walls and levees along the Grand River.

DeLong said of the $14 million total investment, $9 million will be used on the freeboard-deficient work and slightly more than $2 million will be used to raise levees around the wastewater plant. The remainder of the money will go toward asset management costs.

The city of Grand Rapids has partnered with the drain commissioner and Kent County to issue approximately $4.75 million in bonds to begin the process.

With the draft plan completed, city staff and local stakeholders serving on the Grand Rapids – FEMA Local Levee Partnership Team will have an opportunity to examine and comment on the draft report, which will be finalized in December.

Following the plan’s finalization, the city will have 18 months to implement the improvements to achieve the freeboard-deficient status.

DeLong said he is also excited to report the work on the floodwalls and levees can be done in conjunction with the downtown plans that are in process, including those of GR Forward.

“We can incorporate the vision into improvements,” he said.

He noted the demonstration project that will take place in the coming year along the river in the Monroe North neighborhood, which will expand Canal Street Park all the way to Leonard Street, as well as plans for another area in the neighborhood the city is attempting to purchase.

“That step design will allow the area to be used as a public park and recreation area and allow people to be near water, but when flooding, it serves as a flood wall,” he explained.

It might even be possible for Grand Rapids to achieve the next stage of protection, Sound Reach, which is granted by FEMA if continuous sections of floodwalls or levees are designed to withstand the flood hazards posed by a 1 percent annual chance of a flood and the levee system provides three feet of additional freeboard.

Achieving Sound Reach would also meet the recommendations of the River Restoration Steering Committee and is consistent with the city’s commitment to climate resiliency.

“Achievement of a Sound Reach stage in several places along the Grand River, where possible, will bring many river properties to Flood Zone X, from a flood insurance standpoint,” DeLong said. “By incorporating good design, it will also facilitate wet and dry aspects of river restoration and will provide additional resiliency for our community.”

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