SAGEVILLE, Iowa — More than two years after floodwaters swamped their mobile homes and upended their lives, the residents of Valley Hill Trailer Park are still waiting for government help.
To add to their misery, looters have scavenged their remaining possessions.
Only a few families still live in the park, those whose trailers were not ruined by floodwaters in July 2011. But even those residents will have to move so the site can be turned into perpetual green space.
Most likely, the four-acre space nestled between steep wooded bluffs and Heritage Pond will be turned into a park or campground by Dubuque County Conservation.
City officials have been navigating the maze of required government paperwork for buying out flooded property for 27 months, and many months of work still lie ahead.
Mary Habel is Sageville's part-time city clerk.
“The City Council has been about the people all along and is trying to be gentle with them,” she said, “but some will come to meetings after being told by someone that they will be getting a check that night, and things get hot. They have nowhere to go and no money to replace all their things.”
Habel wades through the bureaucratic morass with guidance from the East Central Intergovernmental Association.
Recently, Kevin Schmitt gave a tour of the trailer park he has owned and operated for 14 years. He still collects rent on every lot, but at a much reduced rate. Many of the trailers are uninhabitable.
“The flood came up this high, the height of a Ford pickup's roof,” said Schmitt, pointing high up on the side of an empty trailer.
“See here, these windows are broken out and this door is unlocked for the fifth time,” he said of a mildewed trailer hulk surrounded by weeds.
“There's a lot of looting again,” he said. “They've taken copper pipes, furnaces, air conditioning unit.”
Schmitt said that he will again ask the Dubuque County Sheriff's Office to increase its patrols of the park and that he will press charges against anyone caught stealing from the empty trailers. Like many small towns, Sageville does not have its own police force.
The deteriorating trailers look abandoned, but they actually are not. Anyone hoping to receive federal flood aid must keep the property intact and in place until the City of Sageville formally buys it with federal funds passed through the state and the county. The owners will be reimbursed for each trailer's pre-flood value, so the units cannot be moved or demolished before that assessment is made.
As if Donna Brown's life were not difficult enough, looters constantly target her trailer, partly because it is so damaged that she has not lived in it since the flood. They have broken the windows and forced open the door many times, stealing parts of the furnace and interior wood trim and dumping garbage in her garden shed.
“It really bites. We had 3 feet of water inside, and all we salvaged were some clothes,” said Brown, who now rents an apartment with three other family members.
“I thought it would be done a lot quicker than this.”
June Cupps watched floodwaters lap at the bottom of her trailer that night as her children rescued people and pets with the family's small boat.
“There are still gawkers driving by all the time. I'll just be glad to get (the buyout) over with,” said Cupps, watching her cat Jinks peek out the window of her tan trailer with neat green trim.
She has lived in the trailer park for 20 years and said she would gladly stay. “It's been sad around with people having to leave.”
Glen Smock, 90, hoped to live in his trailer until he died. He bought it for his wife 30 years ago.
“It's my home,” Smock said. “My wife died here, and I wanted to, too.”
He plans to move with his son and daughter to another trailer court when he receives his buyout check, which might come in March. The city will begin handing out purchase offers next month.
The entire buyout project will cost about $2.5 million, Habel said, with the federal government paying 75 percent; the state, 10 percent; and Sageville, the remaining 15 percent using block grant funds. The city could have forced the residents to pay its portion.
Schmitt joked with Cupps as he walked away.
“June, you'll be the last to leave this place, so turn out the lights.”
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