With FEMA closing in on adopting its new floodplain maps, Brownwood City Manager Bobby Rountree told city council members Tuesday that a channelization project that would deepen Willis Creek — and remove about 400 structures from FEMA's proposed revision of its floodplain maps — may still be an option.
But the cost is going up, Rountree told council members.
City officials have said about 400 structures in the Willis Creek area would be placed in FEMA's 100-year floodplain if the agency adopts its maps as proposed. That could require property owners with mortgages to face increased flood insurance premiums, Rountree said.
Rountree recently learned that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study to determine the feasibility of the channelization would cost $400,000, and the city would be responsible for half — $200,000, payable up front.
The city would be able to receive some of that back in in-kind services, Rountree told council members.
The channelization itself could cost $13 million or more, with some of the money coming from federal funds and the city responsible for the rest.
Channelization of Willis Creek would allow water from the surrounding water shed to flow into the creek and remain within its banks, instead of flowing out into the area where the homes are located, Rountree said. The water would be carried downstream before it could flood the residents.
In an email to the Bulletin, Rountree elaborated on the costs.
"The feasibility, cost, design, and timeline for this project is a moving target," Rountree said. "The study would determine the feasibility and an estimated cost of the project. A cost/benefit ratio would be determined — in other words, the project cost versus the value of the homes that would be removed from the floodplain."
The study would also consider the use of detention ponds located in the area to reduce flooding, Rountree said.
The very rough estimated cost of the channelization project is $13 million, but it could be as much as $16 million — or more, Rountree said.
Rountree said the city would bear some of that cost, but how much would depend on what funding program was available at the time.
Previously, he said the city would have been responsible for half of the cost. From what city staff understands now a federal program would pay up to $10 million.
"That doesn't mean they will pay $10 million, only that the project might be eligible for $10 million," Rountree said. "(We) don't know how much they will pay."
That could leave the city facing a cost of $3 to $6million or more "depending on many factors," Rountree said. "The availability of funds and the type of funding program could change prior to implementation."
FEMA is scheduled to adopt the maps in August 2015, and in the meantime is in the midst of a 90-day appeal and comment period that ends Oct. 28.
Mayor Stephen Haynes, recapping the FEMA floodplain issue, said FEMA decided to revise its floodplain maps with higher elevations after the flooding caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
"They came into Brownwood and proposed a new flood elevation that was substantially higher than the one they had," Haynes said.
"The city hired hydrologist Ron Morrison to counter their maps. He was somewhat successful in getting FEMA to amend their maps."
But there are still structures that would be placed in a floodplain in the revised FEMA maps.
"Unfortunately, as far as the city goes, our hands are somewhat tied," Haynes said. "We've done about everything that we can do to prevent FEMA maps from being amended, but it looks like it's going to be amended despite our best efforts.
"If you're in a floodway or floodplain, if you have a mortgage, you have to have flood insurance. There is a significant population in Brownwood along Willis Creek but it's not isolated to Willis Creek."
Doran Lemke, former chief appraiser for the Brown County Appraisal District, urged council members to "really study and look at the channelization of Willis Creek and the Pecan Bayou and everything else."
When structures do flood, Lemke said, it affects property values which in turn affects property tax revenue.
The $200,000 cost to the city for the channelization study "might be cheap insurance in the long run," Lemke said.
Haynes reminded Lemke that the $200,000 was just for the study.
"I understand Lemke said. "I need to know something. You all need to know something. I understand your hands are tied when it comes to all of that."