By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - A federal expansion of the flood plain along the Little Miami River jeopardizes plans to revitalize historic downtown because it will make construction more expensive, city officials said.
Council, gearing up to combat the federal changes, has formed an ad hoc committee to investigate what can be done. Officials said they might enlist help from federal legislators to ease restrictions for Loveland.
If the city doesn't adopt the revised map by May 17, property owners will be dropped from the federally backed flood insurance program. Assistant City Manager Tom Carroll said he expects council to meet that deadline, while continuing to look at options.
"It's frustrating. We are working hard to generate economic development and the federal government is throwing up roadblocks," Mayor Brad Greenberg said.
The problem lies with changes that increased elevation, or the point above sea level which is predicted to flood during a 100-year storm event. The revisions were part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's new 100-year flood plain maps for Hamilton County, which followed months of public input.
The new mapping shows worsened flood risks, especially along Duck Creek in Fairfax, O'Bannon Creek in Loveland, and Mill Creek in Sharonville and Evendale.
Affected cities must adopt the federal changes and agree to enforce certain flood plain construction standards to keep their community in the flood insurance program. Lenders require the insurance for mortgages and construction loans in the flood plain.
A key concern here is how the expanded flood plain will impact the sale and development of the Nisbet Lumber Co. site, which is considered a catalyst in revitalizing downtown. The company is moving to Sharonville in coming months. FEMA's update expands the portion of the Nisbet property considered to be in the flood plain.
"What it is going to do is scare away developers from remodeling existing buildings," said contractor Jeff DeVol, who is renovating the historic Bronner House along the bike trail downtown. He said rehabbing costs much more than new construction in a flood plain.
"I'm not even so sure cost-prohibitive is the word. It's possibly not possible. You have to engineer the building so it can't be washed off its foundation," he said.
Even though flooding in another area of the city killed a 16-year-old girl in 2001, Carroll said the downtown business district hasn't flooded in at least 40 years.
Nancy Olson, a natural disaster specialist with FEMA, said the deadline to appeal the federal changes expired last year.
Loveland has the option to adopt the revisions to protect insurance eligibility for residents. The city then can hire an engineering firm to conduct a hydrological study and dispute the federal flood plain data with scientific facts, she said.
Carroll said a study could cost at least $50,000.
Ultimately, city officials could decide to pay for a study or plan downtown development around the changes, Carroll said.
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