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Flood buyouts grow to 5 cities in St. Louis County

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Local governments here are seeking at least $16 million in federal funding to buy out more than 60 homes and apartments across the county that were walloped by flooding in this summer’s storms.

Hazelwood, Webster Groves, Ladue, Maryland Heights, University City and the St. Louis County Office of Emergency Management all submitted letters to the state to help pay for the voluntary buyout of 64 properties heavily damaged in the summer storms.

The properties are in low-lying neighborhoods along waterways that were inundated by unprecedented rainfall in late July: along the Mississippi River in unincorporated south St. Louis County, near Deer Creek in Webster Groves and Ladue, and fronting the River Des Peres in University City, among others. They include homes that have flooded multiple times over the years.

The aim is to offer residents and property owners a fair price to relocate, to demolish the buildings and return the sites to parks, forests and green spaces to avoid future floods.

Federal funding would pay for 75% of the buyouts. Local governments would be required to put in a 25% match. The estimated costs include private appraisals, environmental studies and demolition.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency credits the program with saving lives and millions in damages. The largest Missouri buyout followed the flood of 1993, after which more than 3,146 properties were bought for about $37 million under a joint federal-state flood buyout program, including properties across the St. Louis region.

About 1,600 of the homes that flooded in 1993 would have been hit again by flooding in 2008, FEMA says.

But proposals are only the first step in a long process, with no guarantee of completion. Each buyout plan would have to be approved by state and federal emergency officials, after making cost and environmental assessments. The buyout offers are voluntary for each individual property owner.

“A buyout is a complex issue with a lot of paperwork,” said Michael O’Connell, a spokesman for Missouri’s emergency management agency, which administers the program. “There is a lot of work and research that has to be done.”

And funding is limited. Flood buyout costs are capped at 20% of what FEMA expects to spend in total on the July storm here, costs that are still being calculated, O’Connell said.

Approval of each project also depends on whether the local government is able to provide the 25% match, he said.

In University City, City Manager Greg Rose had said officials would seek an estimated $40 million in funding to buy more than 300 homes and apartments units condemned because of flood damage. But the city had to scale back the request to 24 homes and one three-building apartment complex at an estimated total cost of about $8 million.

Had the city received $40 million, a 25% match would have been about $10 million.

Rose said officials revised its request to the state based on guidance from state and federal officials.

“We always intended to pursue funding for the about 300 homes that had flooded,” Rose said. “We learned as we went through the process that it was not very likely that that level of funding was going to be provided. We didn’t want to submit an application that had no chance of success.”

Webster Groves lists 12 single-family houses on Kuhlman Lane, East Pacific and North Forest avenues at a total cost of about $4.1 million. Half of the homes incurred “substantial” damage and another half incurred lesser damage, officials said.

“The buyout decision not only has a great impact on the affected residents but also the larger community and the city’s overall budget,” Jenny Starkey, a spokeswoman for the city, said in a statement. “We are investigating all of the possibilities at this time and giving careful consideration to the options.”

Ladue lists 11 single-family houses on Foxboro Road and Robin Hill Lane at a total cost of nearly $7.3 million.

St. Louis County would buy 16 properties in Lemay, an unincorporated area along the Mississippi River just south of the border of the city of St. Louis, at a cost of roughly $2.8 million.

Maryland Heights and Hazelwood officials did not provide buyout addresses or costs on Wednesday.

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Reporter covering St. Louis County politics. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi, and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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