Four zones have been tentatively designated in Neosho as flood affected areas, sections of town where a proposed FEMA funded buyout program may change the landscape. A community informational meeting about the potential buyouts was held in Neosho on Monday. Letters were previously sent to 533 local addresses about the program, seeing resident input.
Neosho city officials, the mayor and several city council members were on hand for the meeting, along with representatives from the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, the Missouri Department of Economic Development, and Catholic Charities of Southwest Missouri. The money will come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
The City, with assistance from Jill Cornett with the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council, is in the process of preparing an application for federal flood relief funding earmarked for five Missouri zip codes including Neosho, Branson, West Plains, Doniphan and Van Buren.
The current proposed zones aren't permanent.
"The zones will not stay the way they are," Rachel Holcomb, Director of Economic Development for the city, said. "These zones were a starting point. This meeting is to get feedback. I still need to hear from you."
Holcomb also noted that all of the zones are not located in the FEMA designated flood plain.
The city has another two months to turn in the application for the money. A total of approximately 55 million dollars will be distributed between the five zip codes.
To qualify for the possible buyout, residents must have been affected by flooding in 2017. Statewide, the flooding had to happen between April 28 and May 11. In Neosho, the worst flooding took place when 6-10 inches of rain fell and caused widespread flooding. FEMA data indicates that around 284 homeowners and 85 renters experience damage. Some homes were destroyed while others suffered various levels of damage.
First, the city needs to know what residents in the designated areas want to do. The next step will be making the grant application. In order for an area to be part of a flood buyout, 75-80% participation is desired. The last step would be approval of the grant so that money could come to Neosho.
An intake center would then be set up in Neosho where residents could go through the process, which will be lengthy. Such a center may not be opened until 2020. A 90-day window will exist to accept and sign the buyout agreement or not.
"It will take months, if not years to work through this process," Cornett said. "This is not going to be a fast process. If you don't go through the intake process now, it's likely you won't get this chance again."
Participation is voluntary but Cornett urges residents to go through the process even if they are uncertain whether or not they will want to sell.
"I'd like to encourage everyone to consider this, to be part of the intake.You can always back out but this opportunity may not take place again. It may be the only opportunity like this."
Each buy out or acquisition of property will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Funds are awarded using many different factors. The value of the property will be at the estimated value on the day prior to flooding. Many steps exist between acceptance and the final process but homeowners can change their mind until just before demolition takes place. Each individual will be assigned a case worker to guide he or she through the process. Some mortgage assistance toward a replacement home is possible but there are income and other factors to determine eligibility. Replacement homes must be comparable to the previous dwelling.
In addition to being lengthy, the process is also far from easy.
"Some people will be caught in a squeeze," Cornett said. "They may need to consider multi-family housing."
No further development can take place on the properties after buyout. Some options include areas becoming a park, wetland, or walking trail.
Tenants who rent can also qualify for some assistance if they were affected by the April 2017 flooding.
Two main objectives of the buy out are to benefit families affected by the flooding, especially those of low to moderate income and to reduce the impact of future disasters, especially flooding.
During the meeting, some residents asked why the city hasn't done more to prevent flooding.
"There are just some things we can't do," Neosho Mayor William Doubek said, in response to a question about changing Hickory Creek. He noted that can't be done without bringing in the Army Corps of Engineers.
Acting City Manager and Neosho Chief of Police David Kennedy also replied.
"My heart is really going out to you guys," he said. "I want to do the best we can for you. There are things we can do, things we have done."
He noted city crews have been clearing away debris from Spring Street to North College and that crews will soon move to other areas. Kennedy also stated that the city is currently working with Allgeier Martin on a water study to make recommendations what can be done to improve the situation.
An earlier flood buyout that began in 1992 and targeted areas in the northern section of Neosho was mentioned. Today, much of that area has become part of Morse Park. Councilman Carmin Allen, who also served previously on the council during the earlier buyout, spoke about it.
'"It's the same scenario," he said. "It didn't hurt Neosho - it helped Neosho. No one here will be forced out. It's all voluntary. There's no fear here, no one has to be afraid."
Of the participants' many questions, few could be answered because details won't be firm until the grant request is written, submitted and acceptance. Homeowners in the area of the roundabout complained that flooding didn't occur in their neighborhood until the roundabout was constructed. Several business owners with property in the zones expressed concerns about negative impacts to their businesses and not being part of the initial buyout.
As the process continues, Cornett and the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council are willing to serve as grant administrator for the city to make certain the application process goes smoothly.
Resident input is wanted by the city. Anyone who received a survey that has not returned it needs to do so. Visitors are welcome at city council meetings, which occur on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month.
"A lot still has to go into the final flood buyout zones," Holcomb said. "We have to work together to narrow down to who wants to be there."
The Neosho Daily News will continue to cover this developing story.