Rushford City Council discusses city’s role in floodplain issues

By: 
Scott Bestul

Revised floodplain mapping has placed Rushford homes in the floodplain that had not previously received that designation, a situation that may affect insurance rates for property owners in that zone. The city’s role, if any, in that situation was the primary topic of discussion at the council’s Sept. 9 meeting. The council also heard a report from a lobbyist from Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and listened to a concerned citizen’s request that ATVs be made legal within city limits.

Floodplain mapping fallout

While it’s no secret that revised floodplain mapping has been an issue for Fillmore County municipalities in recent months, the effects of those revisions are finally settling in, and a presentation by Derek Olinger proved that to the council. Olinger, engineer with Bolton & Menk, explained that as many as 46 properties within the city limits are now considered to be in the floodplain, and some of those homeowners will now face higher insurance rates.

“Properties within the new regulatory floodplain are required to get flood insurance if their mortgage is federally backed,” Olinger explained. “And that includes most home loans.” Lenders are tasked with notifying homeowners of this new designation, and the property owners have 45 days to acquire flood insurance. If such insurance is not obtained within the grace period, homeowners may have to purchase non-NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program) insurance, which will be more expensive. While homeowners with no mortgage would not be required to purchase more extensive insurance, any potential resale of the property could be impacted.

Olinger noted that the possibility exists to remove some properties from the updated floodplain maps. “There are sometimes inaccuracies with their modeling,” he said. “And we can supplement their data with more extensive sampling that might result in a redesignation.” One of those areas, Olinger explained, is near Nannestad Lane, where 15 properties have been re-designated into the floodplain. Olinger said that if more extensive hydraulic modeling shows that some properties might not be affected by a significant water event, those properties can potentially be removed from the floodplain by filing a Letter Of Map Revision (LOMR). But the testing and modeling required to achieve that designation is expensive, with Olinger’s estimate reaching as high as $15,500. “We would have a good idea about halfway through the process whether the hope is legitimate,” he said. “If the modeling shows there’s little to no chance, we could stop the test.”

Olinger also noted another option, the submittal of a Letter Of Map Amendment (LOMA) that would show, with more detailed analysis than possible with the FEMA maps, that the structure or property is outside the regulatory floodplain. While not as expensive as a LOMR, a LOMA designation comes with a price as well. “We estimate a price of about $1,000 per lot, with the price going down somewhat if you would tie 10 or more properties together,” Olinger said. Applying 10 or more homes together in one LOMA request could lower the rate to $600-$800 per lot. LOMA requests need to be submitted by the end of the year, and would require a review from FEMA, which takes about 45 days, Olinger estimated.

Area resident and homeowner Dave Ansell was present to contribute to the discussion. “One reason I’m here is just to see what I need to do,” Ansell said. Lots of people in our neighborhood don’t even know that this is happening, and when they do, the FEMA website is very confusing.” Ansell also stressed that insurance rates for anyone with a mortgage would rise significantly, and that potential resale of properties would probably be affected.

Councilor O’Donnell wondered about the number of residents that had called the city office to inquire about their situation. Clerk Zacher noted that fewer than six people had called. O’Donnell then asked for clarification if the city had any financial obligation to assist property owners who might want to file a LOMR or LOMA. Olinger noted that no such obligation existed. But Councilor Benson noted that informing citizens and assisting them in any way possible, even if money isn’t part of that assistance, should be part of the city’s role. Councilor Ryman suggested that at least two meetings be held for the purpose of informing citizens of the situation and gauging their interest in pursuing. Ryman moved to approve two meetings and that Bolton & Menk draft letters explaining LOMA and LOMR to citizens affected by the floodplain mapping process and that these letters be presented for council review. The council approved the motion.

LGMC report

Elizabeth Wefel, attorney and lobbyist for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), of which Rushford is a member, presented an overview of the organization’s activities in the past legislative session. Wefel noted that, while the state is seeing its first governor from the outstate – a potential plus for small towns like Rushford – the speaker and the house majority leader are both from the suburbs. To add to this tension is the fact that Minnesota sports the only divided legislature in the country. While this situation has resulted in challenges for the CGMC as it lobbies for outstate causes, the organization has made some strides, according to Wefel. Among those achievements are:

• Gains in LGA funds. Rushford is expected to receive $620,869 in 2020, an increase of $23,892 from 2019. This was part of a $26 million statewide increase.

• Broke a legislative logjam on bonding funding for water infrastructure after nearly half of that money was tied up in a lawsuit. CGMC worked with legislators to solve the issue.

• Obtained additional funding for water infrastructure.  The CGMC sought $18 million in legacy funding for Public Facilities Authority (PFA) infrastructure grant and loan programs and obtained that money.

• Child care grants. While LGMC sought $3 million in Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIF) grants to assist with the state’s child care crisis, it achieved only half that amount.

Wefel noted that the CGMC will continue to advocate for cities outside the greater metro area in the present, and future, legislative sessions. The council thanked Wefel for her report.

ATV use in the city

Rushford resident Michael Evenson addressed the council during the “Appearance of Interested Citizens” portion of the meeting. Evenson said that he’d like the council to “revisit” the issue of ATV use within city limits. While Rushford does not prohibit ATV/ETV use, it does not specifically allow it. “Every city in the area allows their use, and I’d appreciate it if the council would address the issue again,” Evenson said. In addition to feeling such use would be appropriate, Evenson noted, “One of our largest private employers sells a product that’s illegal to use here. We want to keep M&M here,” he said.

City Administrator Chladek addressed Evenson, “In anticipation of this we’ve started to do some preliminary work” to further look into the issue. The council thanked Evenson for his appearance and said they would revisit the ATV prohibition going forward.

Public Hearing

The council set the date and time for a public hearing to consider the adoption of an ordinance that will grant a franchise agreement with Mediacom Minnesota LLC. If granted, this agreement would repeal the 1996 and 1999 Cable Communications Ordinance. The public hearing will occur on Sept. 23. at 6:30 p.m.

Other business

The council reviewed a report from the Rushford Fire Dept. Chief Chad Rasmussen. The report noted that the department had been busy responding to a “wide variety of fire and rescue calls,” as well as training members and maintaining/upgrading equipment. Four new firemen have joined the force since 2017, bringing the number of firemen up to 29. The Rushford Fire Dept. will be hosting an Open House on Saturday, Sept. 21, from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m., in conjunction with the city’s “Taste of the Trail” event.

The council briefly reviewed the city’s policy on bow hunting for deer within the city limits. This hunt is held at the same time as the statewide archery bow hunt. But in order to be eligible, hunters have to pass a proficiency test, pay a $20 fee, and agree to abide by the city’s hunt rules. Hunter numbers are capped at 20, and interested bow hunters can get more information at city hall.

The council pass resolution 2019-063, acknowledging donations totaling $800 from the R-P Booster Club, the American Legion Post #94, and the Rushford Lions Club to be used toward the purchase of portable generators for use by the Rushford Fire Dept. 

Schedule

The next meeting of the Rushford City Council will be held Monday, Sept. 23 at 6:30 p.m. All members of the public are encouraged to attend.