Residents in western Iowa whose properties were struck by flooding this spring are beginning the long process of seeking federally funded buyouts of their flood-prone homes.

Mills County and Pacific Junction have received a combined $5.49 million from an Iowa flood recovery fund to cover the local costs of acquiring and demolishing flood-damaged properties.

So far, 70 households in unincorporated areas of Mills County and 147 households in Pacific Junction — two areas hit hard by record-setting flooding in March — have indicated interest in a buyout. All buyouts would be voluntary.

Those numbers can and will change, state and local officials said at a meeting at Glenwood Community High School on Tuesday night attended by roughly 100 people. More people may raise their hand for a buyout. Others may change their minds, deciding to stick it out and repair their homes.

Mills County has asked interested residents to decide by Oct. 11 if they’d like to be added to the buyout list, which is not binding.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will ultimately decide which buyout applications get funded.

Appraising, buying and tearing down homes could cost upward of $15 million in unincorporated Mills County and nearly $22 million in Pacific Junction.

Those costs will also vary depending on how many people opt for a buyout and how much their homes are appraised for. Residents are supposed to receive the preflood value of their home.

“You’re going to get the value before the floodwaters hit,” said Terry Brown, a mitigation specialist with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

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Commercial properties and agricultural land affected by flooding may be eligible for buyout money, too, but residential properties typically take precedence, Brown said.

Under the best-case scenario, FEMA would pick up 75% of those costs through its Hazard Mitigation Assistance program. Local governments are expected to kick in 15% and the state is on the hook for 10%.

The recently approved state flood funds are expected to cover the local match that Mills County and Pacific Junction officials said they could not afford to pay.

If properties are deemed eligible and receive FEMA approval, they would be demolished and permanently designated as green space, meaning nothing could be built there in the future. The goal is to remove vulnerable properties from the flood plain to prevent repeated flooding and payouts for flood damage.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how long that process will take, Brown said. Mills County officials have said it could take two years. Victims of other hurricanes and natural disasters sometimes wait years.

Mills County is still developing criteria to determine which properties may be eligible for buyouts, said Tyler Loontjer, deputy county attorney.

Some communities don’t relish the idea of buyouts, either, which would hurt the population and tax base in a town like Pacific Junction, where about 500 people lived before the flood hit.

Today, only about five households are back in their homes in Pacific Junction, though more are renovating and repairing homes that took on several feet of water.

“I know it’s tough to hold on” while waiting for a potential buyout, Brown said.

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Reporter - Education

Erin is an enterprise reporter for the World-Herald. Previously, Erin covered education. Follow her on Twitter @eduff88. Phone: 402-444-1210.

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