NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. - City leaders in New Smyrna Beach put the final seal on a budget to fund a nearly $2 million project to help prevent flooding for nine homes. The plan, if all goes well, will lift nine homes off the ground and place them on concrete stilts.
Engineers say each home will differ in design depending on the integrity and foundation of the structure. FOX 35 News found out the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded the city 75% of the project’s budget to help prevent flooding for those nine homes. The remainder though must be funded by the city and the homeowners.
At Tuesday’s city council meeting, New Smyrna Beach leaders agreed to pay 12.5% of the project but didn’t say how or when the homeowners will have to come up with the money. Homeowners would be responsible for approximately $26,000 of the construction.
At least three homeowners have told FOX 35 News they do not have the money readily available, including a retired couple who have considered a second mortgage to cover the cost or even using their life savings.
"We would have to borrow some money either way. or go into our retirement money which is not that…we'd still have to probably borrow some money," said Sue Childress, a retired nurse living on South Pine Street.
She and her husband retired to the beach ten years ago. Since then, she said each summer they experience at least some sort of flooding. During the peak of Hurricane Irma, neighbors said water was knee-deep in the streets and about a foot high inside their homes.
"We had to leave the island because it was pretty bad," Childress said.
She and her husband returned to their home when the water had receded but there was extensive damage throughout their entire home.
Eight other homeowners are facing the same decision. They will have to pay up, move out for up to six months to have their homes lifted above flood levels, or deal with the yearly damage. Homeowners would either have to pay their portion in a lump sum or the amount could be spread over the years into homeowner’s taxes or some type of payment plan, according to Mayor Russ Owen. Those details have not been worked out with the city yet.
FOX 35 News asked Mayor Owen why taxpayers should fund a project where the homeowners have decided to live in a flood-prone area. Owen said it will actually save the city money in the long run.
"I think, net, it's going to be saving as we were also having to do mitigation in that area to try to reduce the flooding risk," the mayor explained.
For now, the project is still moving forward as long as homeowners commit to the process and can fulfill their financial promises. If one homeowner decided to drop out, the city said it could jeopardize the FEMA grant due to qualifying factors.
Childress said she’s not sure the hassle is worth it anymore.
"At this point, we're kind of questioning everything right now."
Engineers said the next step in the process is to meet with each homeowner to scan their foundations.
Mayor Owen also told FOX 35 News this is just the first phase of homes being fixed to prevent future floods. There is not a timeline, but at least 17 additional homes are on the list to be considered for some type of mitigation. However, Owen said he will not sign off on another project like this one.
"How we resolve this issue and other areas, other low-lying areas that have been built in the past, that's yet to be determined, but clearly we can't sustain this, especially at the local level," Owen said.