City digs in on gold rush of post-hurricane money

Winter Springs residents whose homes have flooded since Hurricane Ian have only a little time to decide whether they’ll take the federal government up on an offer to help pay to raise homes or bulldoze them. And the city is offering an informational meeting Thursday, Feb. 9 to help residents understand it.

“We just have to find out how many people are interested,” Mayor Kevin McCann said. “It could be a lot. It could be nobody.”

The program is part of three pots of money the city is after to help the city and individual property owners rebuild, or reimburse themselves for rebuilding, after a pair of hurricanes struck Central Florida late last year.

Among those three pots of money, Winter Springs is asking homeowners to submit whether they’d like their flooded homes either raised above the 100-year floodplain or removed completely, paid for mostly by federal flood hazard mitigation programs. The application is voluntary for homeowners whose homes were damaged by recent hurricanes, but funding is limited, City Manager Shawn Boyle said.

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At Jan. 30’s City Commission meeting engineer David Hamstra, contracted with the city through Pegasus Engineering, explained the options for taking advantage of money to prevent future flooding of Winter Springs homes.

Approximately 1,500 homes within the city are either completely within or touching the 100-year floodplain established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But for many homes, being outside of that zone wasn’t enough to save them from Hurricane Ian, when floodwaters crested the 500 to 1,000-year flood stage in some areas, Hamstra said.

“If I heard correctly, something like 70% of the houses that flooded in Central Florida were outside of the FEMA floodplain,” Hamstra said.

But if a home has flooded due to a storm that qualifies for assistance, which victims of Ian and Nicole do, then if a home is registered with FEMA as needing assistance, homeowners have three options that Boyle outlined: Either apply to have your home lifted, apply to have it demolished and permanently forbidden from being replaced, or do nothing and handle repairs through flood insurance or other grant programs.

For those electing to raise their homes, Hamstra outlined a process where crews tunnel under the home, disconnect electrical, plumbing and sewer systems, slide steel beams under the home then lift it up to a minimum level before placing it on pilings.

“For the city of Winter Springs … you actually require 1.5′ above the [FEMA 100-year flood stage], which is a 50% increase over most cities and counties, so I applaud you for that,” Hamstra said. Homeowners would be required to carry flood insurance after the home is lifted.

Regardless of the outcome of the city’s quest for outside grant funding, McCann said the city is ready to help residents.

“We are willing to help anybody, whether they had flood insurance or not, whether they’re in the floodplain or not,” McCann said Wednesday. “We’re just not sure what we’re going to be able to match yet.”

For information about the informational session and the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program click here

The City Commission had missed its chance to discuss another county-disbursed grant program at a previous meeting because that meeting abruptly ended after Commissioners Victoria Colangelo and Cade Resnick voted against extending the Jan. 23 meeting past 10 p.m. The city was still waiting on the Notice Of Funding Availability, Boyle said on Jan. 30.

“We’ve been told this week, but it could be next week,” Boyle said. “It could be two weeks.”

Once the city receives that notice, potential millions of dollars worth of grant money to rebuild bridges and improve stormwater flow could become available to the city, McCann said, but much of it would be on a first-come, first-served basis.

Listen to the Jan. 30 meeting by clicking here

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