The Missouri River levee improvements that took Paradise Lakes and Green Acres out of the floodplain are now proving an obstacle to their recovery.
Bellevue City Administrator Jim Ristow said an April 12 meeting with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration provided bad news for homeowners in the two communities.
Neither FEMA nor NEMA will pay for the demolition and purchase of properties that sit outside a floodway or a floodplain, Ristow said, which means any relief coming to homeowners must be provided by the owners of the subdivisions or perhaps the City of Bellevue.
Levee improvements from previous years made it possible for the Paradise Lakes manufactured home community and the Green Acres mobile home park to be built by sparing both areas floodplain designation. But that same benefit places the communities outside a substantial portion of federal and state aid that applies exclusively to properties sitting within floodways and floodplains.
“NEMA will take care of basic needs for homeowners, but they don’t do the buyout of the property,” he said.
Among the primary responses of agencies like FEMA and NEMA to flooding is mitigation, which are measures designed to prevent or reduce damage from future disasters. Such measures might involve raising land above the 100-year flood level, for example, or buying out properties that sit in a floodway or floodplain, as was done previously with the Missouri River communities of Iske Place, Holub’s Place and Elbow Bend, all of which sat within the floodway.
The unavailability of FEMA or NEMA funds to assist with demolition or buyouts has left the homeowners, and the city, in a difficult spot, Ristow said.
“Technically, it should be the owner of the park’s responsibility,” he said. “But if they don’t do it, what’s our next step? Those are things we have to work out.”
Strive Communities, which owns and manages manufactured home communities and mobile home parks nationwide, is proving “a very decent corporate citizen to work with,” Ristow said.
The company, which is based in Greenwood Village, Colo., owns the Green Acres mobile home park and has committed to replacing all uninhabitable homes with new ones, Ristow said. He said the company is also in discussion with the city about raising the elevation of the park.
The Paradise Lakes manufactured home community is a different story, Ristow said.
He said Howard Helms, a Bellevue businessman who owns the land at Green Acres and sells 99-year leases to the owners of manufactured homes, has said he lacks the financial resources to demolish and remove the homes.
“If he decides that he’s just going to wipe his hands and say, ‘You demolish it’ and walk away, it would leave us on the hook for demolition,” Ristow said.
Leaving the destroyed homes to rot, becoming homes for rats and disease is not an option, Ristow said, and the city would have to act, even if only as the agency of last resort.
That could constitute a significant financial hit to the city, he said, by some estimates in excess of $2 million, which might or might not eventually be recovered by placing a lien on the land.
In no case, Ristow said, is there currently a scenario in which residents of Paradise Lakes would be compensated for the loss of their homes.
The SBA might be able to help with refinancing, but banks that issued loans are unlikely to forgive them.
“There’s some advice to homeowners out there to say, ‘I quit, it’s all yours’ and maybe file bankruptcy,” he said. “But it’s their credit that gets hurt, even if it was the result of a disaster.”
It’s a difficult situation, Ristow said, with no easy solution in sight.
“Through all this thing we feel for the homeowners, the people who live there,” he said.
“We really do, because a lot of them don’t have the means to go in a different direction.”