Duluth City Council to vote on buying flooded homesA program to purchase flood-damaged Duluth properties and tear them down could be launched tonight, when the City Council considers a resolution to accept $2.4 million from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
A program to purchase flood-damaged Duluth properties and tear them down could be launched tonight, when the City Council considers a resolution to accept $2.4 million from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
That state money would be used to leverage additional Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars appropriated to buy and remove 10 residences in local floodways in the wake of last June’s catastrophic flooding.
The state aid also may allow Duluth to cast a wider net. The city has identified an additional 10 homes and one church —Westminster Presbyterian — that appear to be candidates for voluntary purchase and removal even though they’re not in a designated flood zone. That means those properties don’t qualify for FEMA money, but could receive state assistance.
If approved by the council, the Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program will offer voluntary buyouts of qualifying properties at their assessed or appraised pre-flood values, explained Keith Hamre, Duluth’s director of planning and construction services.
“We’re trying to do as much as we can and make people as whole as possible,” he said.
But Trenton Eckdahl, a Gary-New Duluth resident who initially expressed interest in selling his property, said he can’t afford to part with his residence on 97th Ave. W. at the offered price — about $10,000 less than what he currently owes his bank for the home.
“If we took the buyout, we’d be backwards on our mortgage,” he said. “It’s not a viable option for anyone I know.”
Not all property owners took such a dim view of the program, however.
Jonathan Rova, whose Chester Park home was damaged by a mudslide, said he’s optimistic the buyout program will work for his family. An initial offer, based on the city’s assessed value of his property, would have been difficult to accept, he said. But when he was able to produce a recent pre-flood appraisal, the numbers improved.
Rova explained that his home insurer wouldn’t cover damage from “moving soil” and said he was thankful to have the opportunity to recoup at least a sizeable portion of his loss.
“I feel that at both the state and city levels, at least someone was looking out for us,” he said.
After the flood, Rova and his wife, Nancy, moved with their 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter to a new home, and the family is moving on with their lives.
Hamre acknowledged the terms of the buyout program won’t work for everyone. But he also said it could provide a valuable tool.
“We don’t want people to tax forfeit their properties and then watch them go blighted,” Hamre said.
After properties are acquired and flood-damaged structures are removed, Hamre said the underlying land will become public land never to be privately developed again.
“The properties can be used for recreation or green space, but the negative is that we will be taking them off the local tax rolls forever,” he said.
Floodwaters from a culvert running beneath Westminster Presbyterian Church, on Grand Avenue in West Duluth, surged into the basement last June, filling it 5 feet deep.
Mary Voss, a church elder and lay minister, said congregation members have continued to meet and worship together since the flood, thanks to space provided by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Cremation Society of Minnesota. But she said it has seemed nearly impossible to develop a long-range plan until more details about the availability of aid emerged. Voss remains optimistic that Monday’s council action will bring more clarity to the picture.
“It has been a trying time, yet I have to commend members of our congregation for their continued faithful attendance and their continued giving,” said Jean Abramson, the church’s clerk of session. “We trust that God will now help us find our way forward.”
Voss said the congregation hopes to salvage seven of Westminster’s smaller stained glass windows illustrating the creation story, in hopes that they can be incorporated into a future church. But she said the largest stained glass window, depicting Jesus’ ascension, may be put up for auction.
Some predict the window could fetch in the neighborhood of $80,000, according to Voss, who said that money could be put to good use building a new church elsewhere in West Duluth.