Prairie Township is weighing whether to apply for federal grant money that could help buy and demolish homes that flood repeatedly.
Township officials met Sept. 26 with residents of the O'Harra Estates subdivision in Galloway to discuss the Federal Emergency Management Agency's hazard mitigation grant program.
About three dozen houses on Tamara Avenue, El Nora Drive and some abutting properties on Alton Road in the subdivision have been subject to flooding dating back decades, township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker said. Homeowners were notified of the grant program in a letter mailed Sept. 7, he said.
Township trustees are expected to decide soon whether to apply for the aid; the final grant application is due Dec. 3 and must include a list of specific properties that would be bought and torn down. In addition, Hatmaker said, the property owners must agree to be a part of the grant process.
The Ohio Emergency Management Agency will administer any grant funds awarded. The state doesn't know how much money, if any, it will receive.
The grants are expected to be awarded next summer.
According to information from FEMA, funds became available in April after President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration acknowledging damage in dozens of counties from flooding, straight-line winds, heavy rains and mudslides that plagued the state between Feb. 14 and 25.
Those storms caused widespread flooding throughout southern and central Ohio.
FEMA says the grants are available statewide to help "mitigate future disaster damages."
The projects may include construction of new facilities, "modification of existing, undamaged facilities, relocation of facilities out of floodplains, demolition of structures, or other types of projects to mitigate future disaster damages."
The program is completely voluntary and is targeted toward properties with recurrent insurance claims or damage and property owners who are "tired of fighting the flood," said Jeff Young, director of Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Federal grant money cannot be used to take properties by eminent domain, Young said.
George Poling has lived on Tamara Avenue for three years but said others have been in the neighborhood for much longer.
"Most of the residents here are the ones who built the homes," he said.
Poling spoke to trustees earlier this year and started a Facebook page with photos of flooding. After a heavy rain, he said, water reaches the mailboxes of some of the houses on Tamara Avenue and people cannot get in or out.
"I've been stranded in my home six or seven different times. And I've also been stranded away from my home another six or seven times," Poling said.
"My whole front yard floods. Every time it rains more than a few inches, I have at least 4-5 inches in my basement," he said. "I could have made my basement another living area, but I just can't do that now."
If homeowners decide to participate, and the township is awarded grant funding, an independent appraiser would help set the "fair-market value" purchase price and the structures would be demolished, said Steve Ferryman, chief of the Ohio EMA mitigation branch.
The land would be deed-restricted, requiring that it be kept as open or used as conservation space, he said.
"This is not a get-rich-quick scheme," Ferryman said.
It's expected to take up to three years to complete the purchase and demolition of homes.
Ferryman said the state of Ohio is contributing half of the 25 percent of funding that would be needed by communities that receive grants to pay for mitigation projects. Another 12.5 percent would come from county and township funding, as well as "in-kind" services, he said.
Hatmaker said he expected the demolition work would be conducted by the county's land bank program and count as "in-kind."
Flooding likely is from water backing up from Clover Groff Run to the north and from water flowing across farm fields to the south and east of the Tamara Avenue neighborhood, Hatmaker said.
"Civil engineers have told us that water backing up at Clover Groff is what triggers flooding in the area," he said. "These backups result in water from both sources flooding the area."
Poling said he is considering the FEMA grant.
"If I knew what I know now, I wouldn't have moved into the home," he said.
At least six homeowners have indicated they are interested in the program, Hatmaker said. The township will work with Franklin County and state officials to determine if their properties would be a good fit for the grant.
Applying for the grant is just the first step in a lengthy process, Prairie Township trustees' Chairman Steve Kennedy said.
"We've heard the complaints for years," Kennedy said. "This looked like a pretty good opportunity to give people, if they wanted an out, an out. It's an opportunity that doesn't come around very often."