Paradise Lakes doesn’t look like much of a paradise these days.

Trash and weather-worn children’s toys are scattered across the yards of the manufactured homes. Windows are shattered. Front doors and garages hang open. The roads to the community are blocked off by haphazard piles of concrete slabs, tractor tires and wooden structures.

Within a month or so, this Bellevue community east of Offutt Air Force Base will likely be demolished. All 195 residences have been declared uninhabitable after the historic March flooding.

It’s increasingly likely that the city will bear the brunt of demolition.

The city is now poised to condemn the properties and hire a contractor to demolish them and haul away the debris — a process that’s expected to cost at least $1 million, according to Jim Ristow, Bellevue’s city administrator. The money would come from the city’s general fund.

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Paradise Lakes’ owner Howard Helm has told the city he can’t afford the cost of the demolition. Helm has not responded to The World-Herald’s requests for comment.

The story of Paradise Lakes stands in contrast to that of Green Acres, a similar community directly north of Paradise Lakes where 128 of 208 homes were deemed uninhabitable.

Strive Communities, Green Acres’ parent company, refunded the unused portion of March rent to all residents and released security deposits of those whose homes were declared uninhabitable.

Company leaders expected to have bids for demolition, which will be paid for by insurance and the company itself, lined up this week, said Peter Reinert, Strive Communities’ general counsel.

Paradise Lakes’ displaced residents, who had been in limbo for weeks, have expressed frustration at Helm and other Paradise Lakes employees for not communicating after the flooding and for not reimbursing them for security deposits and unused rent, as happened in Green Acres.

At times they received conflicting information from the city and Paradise Lakes management about the fate of the manufactured homes and who was responsible for removing them.

In late April, the city sent letters to affected residents instructing them to notify the Permitting Department how they planned to remove their properties. Many residents haven’t done so, according to the city, and it now appears they won’t have to.

Before the city moves forward, Helm is expected to file a claim with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in hopes of having the demolition costs covered, Ristow said.

Helm owns all the land beneath the Paradise Lakes properties. About half the residents rented. The other half owned their residences and signed long-term leases on the land underneath.

It appears unlikely that FEMA will accept Helm’s claim. Paul Corah, a FEMA spokesman, told The World-Herald that the agency isn’t currently offering programs in Nebraska that would cover the cost of such a demolition.

Regardless, Bellevue officials want the homes demolished and removed in the next month, Ristow said.

“We don’t want this thing to fester any longer,” he said.

A condemnation of the Paradise Lakes properties would require City Council approval. The City Council could discuss condemnation as early as its May 21 meeting.

If it were to pass, the city could then demolish the community and place a lien on the land, which would prevent Helm from selling it or reviving a similar community unless he were able to satisfy the lien.

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Reece covers Sarpy County for The World-Herald. He's a born-and-raised Nebraskan and UNL grad who spent time in Oklahoma and Virginia before returning home. Follow him on Twitter @reecereports. Phone: 402-444-1127

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