The concerns of the citizens of Wagon Wheel Ranch were once again at the forefront of the agenda for the Butler County Commission Tuesday morning.
Following a request for a grading report from a certified engineer, Butler County flood plain administrator Eric Triplett presented the findings to the commission.
“I have received the report that we’ve been waiting on,” said Triplett. “In a nutshell it comes down to the fact that by comparative analysis a total 398 cubic yards have been removed from the flood plain. We’re accepting the fact that the dike has been removed from the area and I have filed a copy of this report with the state of Kansas.
“I will issue a certificate of occupancy for Bert Helmer’s house today. He does have some drain work that he is in the process of doing and I’m not going to hold him up on getting back home.”
“Your findings are that he is essentially at his final grade of the property,” said Commissioner Jeff Masterson.
“He is in compliance with the flood plain regulations of the county,” added Triplett. “I’ve been over there a couple times and we have discussed further drainage plans. He is willing to go ahead and cut a deep swell between him and Kay Sutherland’s house to create a positive drainage between the two properties. The engineer has found that the volume of dirt that was the dike has been removed. We’re going to drop all cases involving the removal of the dirt.”
When Commissioner Peggy Palmer raised the question of the concern of the neighbors regarding the dirt, Triplett further explained the volume of the dirt that was once the berm on the property has changed shape since the renovations of the home began. The majority of the dirt was used to fill the crater that was once where the house stood, but it will not contribute to further water displacement.
FEMA’s regulations, in regards to creating a rise in the flood plain, do not want someone to go into that area and build a house and disrupt the calculations they’ve used to determine grade levels. The engineer from the state requires if anyone builds anything, it cannot cause a rise in that determination from the FEMA data.
“We’ve got nothing to tell us what the original contours on the lot were. For Bert to be in compliance the berm had to be removed, but since we did not have the survey of the land before the berm was put in we had to go with the best case scenario. The best course of action was to create a positive flow on his lot. His house has been elevated, he’s got flow through vents in it now. When the water comes up, it’ll just flow through his house. We’ve eliminated the displacement of the berm and the area inside of it and the displacement of the foundation itself. This situation has gotten significantly better.”
Page 2 of 4 - “So what in your view is the issue with the neighbors?” asked Palmer.
“Everybody’s concerned about their house flooding,” said Triplett. “Unfortunately, the houses are all in a floodway, which is a channel designated to carry the flow of water. I think what the problem is is that everybody is just concerned that with all the new construction going on that we’re not taking into account that there’s other people there and we’re just letting people do whatever. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. There are 52 properties down in that area. Eventually they’re all going to have to come into compliance, it’s just a statistical fact. We don’t want to keep people from building in there and we’re not out to force people to tear their houses down. We just want them to be safe.
“With these regulations, we’re trying to lessen the strain not only on the federal insurance, but on the emergency management resources. We’re trying to make everything safe for everybody. It is something that admittingly hasn’t been managed well by our department, but we’re trying to take care of it.”
Norma Woods, a long-time resident of the Wagon Wheel subdivision, then began to speak about her concerns.
“Eric tells a very good story, but the berm has only been moved around,” began Woods. “It has not been removed. They couldn’t remove it. Prior to the building of the berm, I had no water in my house. Since its creation, I have had water in my garage. The fill for the berm was brought in illegally. It is more than likely I will have to tear my house down with the next flood. If I have future flood problems, it will be easy to gather why. I trust you will do the job you’ve been elected to do.”
The next speaker, neighbor Kay Sutherland also voiced concerns about the dirt remaining from the berm as well as the accountability of those responsible for the berm existing as long as it did.
“Those county officials that allowed the aforementioned illegal fill should be held accountable for not following codes which we believe consequently contributed to the unprecedented flooding of our house in 2009,” said Sutherland. “These officials should not only be held accountable, but should see to it the laws and regulations are enforced by making any unlawful fill be removed.”
David Woods, speaking for his mother, Norma Woods, also stood and spoke before the commission to ask several questions.
Page 3 of 4 - “My mother never had flood waters before the fill dirt was brought in,” he said. “It looks like we’re trying to satisfy the state that the berm is gone, but we haven’t satisfied our own local codes in the process. I feel like those that are supposed to be enforcing the codes are failing us.”
Joe Ammond, another resident of the subdivision, began to speak and requested the commission form a petition to stop work until the issue is resolved.
“This is not the neighborhood I want to live in,” said Ammond. “I’m asking you people to do something. We’re here to make someone accountable to what’s going on.”
“We’re sitting here with a study by Goedecke Engineering that says the berm has been removed plus a little bit,” said Masterson. “How can we issue a stop work order? I understand your concerns but how can we do that? I don’t feel that we have any right or proof to do that.”
“Steve Samuelson was just out there last week to hear us and I suppose he thought this was just going to go away,” added Ammond. “I want it (the work) stopped until we get someone at the state level to verify that this is more than one foot of fill.”
“Since we did not have a topography of the lot before the berm was there, we had to do a best case scenario,” said Triplett. “Through comparative analysis, they’ve concluded that 390 cubic yards of dirt has been removed from the lot.”
“There’s been vents added to this foundation that should make the displacement less than it was in 2009,” added Masterson.
“They incorporated that dirt,” added Woods. “The county is doing this to comply with FEMA but you’re neglecting to enforce our own local codes. The fill that has been taken and placed under the house, that is illegal for Butler County codes.”
“All you’re doing is burying yourself because you’re losing any support you’ve got,” said Commissioner Dan Woydziak. “We’re not digesting all this today to give you an answer.”
“We could demand that Mr. Helmer tear his house down and that would possibly satisfy them,” commented Masterson. “We’re only hearing one side of this dispute because they’re the only ones here today. There’s no way to satisfy everyone.”
“There may be some technical issues but the big picture is that the existing property owner that inherited this situation has been forced to make some major changes,” added Commissioner Ed Myers. “If he had a big mountain of dirt inside his foundation then we might be able to make a case that is displacing flood waters. There are a lot of other matters that are clearly sources of tension, but the fundamental issue of rectifying this bad situation with the berm seems to be on track. All this has been done in conformance with the appropriate FEMA guidelines.”
Page 4 of 4 - “I’m still asking for a permit to stop work,” said Ammond.
“Well that’s not going to happen today,” countered Woydziak.
The issue was then tabled for further discussion at a later date.
The commission also:
• approved a restricted sale with a quit claim deed of property known as the Bethlehem House to Faith Builders, Inc.
• approved Dell as the lowest best bidder for the 2013-2014 PC, notebook, and monitor suppliers.
• approved the agreement with Union Pacific Railroad Company to provide for the installation of signals and gates at the Benton Main Street railroad crossing.
• approved the Administrative Services agreement with Benefit Management for 2014.
• completed an executive session to discuss county counselor interviews from which no action was taken.