One down, one to go

Alexander County is one step closer to starting the buyout process it began almost two years ago.

During the July 16 County Board meeting, Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny announced he had received a granting agreement from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Denny said he signed and sent the document to Springfield to finalize that end of the process. However, the County is still waiting on the granting agreement from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which is providing 25% of the $11.7 million grant. However, Denny has met with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources engineer to discuss the progress of their granting agreement and Denny said he expects to have their agreement in the next several weeks.

Denny said the County has been required by the state to wait on these two documents before they could begin the buyout process.

“The way the State of Illinois works is … if they are funding a project they will not let you start before your granting agreements are in place,” he said.

He said while it has not exactly been pleasant having to sit in wait, he understands why he had to.

“You have to have the legal framework, otherwise you are going to have problems,” Denny said.

Denny and his office have not sat idle these last several months, however. Denny said his office have done all they can do to expedite the process as much as they can. He said prior to getting the granting agreements. They posted job notices for appraisal companies and after receiving bids for the different jobs, made their decisions on who to hire so when the time came, they could make an official decision. Denny said had they waited until after the agreements were received it could have drug out the buyout process for weeks, even months.

During this time the County has brought in the Southern Five Planning Commission to administrate the grant. Regional planner at Southern Five Crystal Davenport will handle the project and said her office is there coordinate with the State and County to ensure property owners have a smooth ride through the buyout process.

Davenport said property owners need to understand that the amount they are offered  for their home or property will be based on pre-flood market value and to help the process along, they should be ready to show documentation for insurance or assistance received after for the flood and receipts for work and improvements made to their properties as this will help expedite their appraisal process and ensure they get a fair assessment of their property.

Once the process is able to start, Denny said appraisers will go to each property and assess its value and this may take time. He said it is not possible to get everyone done at once.

Denny said while it may seem like very little progress is being made at the present time, he is confident the start of the process is closer at hand than people may think.

“I think in the next couple of months you will start seeing some to the point of making offers,”he said.

— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

County gets buyout agreements

Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny came to the Alexander County Board meeting with some very good news: The County finally has its buyout agreements.

These agreements were the only thing standing in the way of moving forward with the Federal Emergency Management Agency buyouts from 2011’s flood.

Excited by the news, the Board moved swiftly to make all the necessary appointments to get the ball moving.

It appointed Harry McNelly to be the signatory for both the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and Illinois Department of Natural Resources funds. For the 12 commercial properties, the County hired Tri-C Appraisers out of Marion and for the 126 residential properties it hired Dockins Valuations out of Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Denny said his office would schedule a public meeting to explain what is next.

— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

County still waiting on state to proceed with buyouts

Alexander County Engineer Jeff Denny presented the County Board with three bids from companies wanting to help complete the FEMA buyout process, but no one was able to act.

Denny explained that because the State has yet to deliver to the County any grant agreements, no one is able to go forward with buyouts. He said the companies could be hired but no one could start work until the agreements have been received.

Many residents of Alexander County have been waiting for two years to close the books on 2011’s historic flood and while many may be upset the process is not over yet, Denny said there is progress, just slow progress.

During the meeting the board also re-appointed Vincent Doss, Willi Garner, Jerry Smith, Michael Turner and Jack Guetterman to the Alexander County Airport Authority. They also approved loaning $100,000 out of the revolving loan fund to Jones Service Station in Olive Branch to expand its inventory. The loan will be paid back at 4.5% interest over the next seven years.

–Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

The Week in Photos: March 28, 2013

The visual report from the week of March 28, 2013

Clinton Pecord looks at floodwaters March 25 on the back of his property in Cache. Pecord lives a few hundred yards from the house he grew up in and said flooding has been something he has dealt with all of his life. However the flooding in 2011 was the highest he has seen on the property. He said even though the flood was difficult, he is not sure he will accept a buyout. “It really depends on what kind of offer they give us,” Pecord said.-- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Clinton Pecord looks at floodwaters March 25 on the back of his property in Cache. Pecord lives a few hundred yards from the house he grew up in and said flooding has been something he has dealt with all of his life. However the flooding in 2011 was the highest he has seen on the property. He said even though the flood was difficult, he is not sure he will accept a buyout. “It really depends on what kind of offer they give us,” Pecord said.– Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
O.J. Taake, right, finishes cutting Morgan Laird’s hair March 22 in his barber shop in Olmsted. 84-year-old Taake said he has been barbering for the last 49 years, 44 of those years in that same shop in Olmsted. Taake said he took up barbering at age 35 after he had quit farming. A highlight of his job Taake said is talking to all kinds of people. His shop is only open three days but he said it keeps him plenty busy. “For a retired person now it makes a pretty good pastime,” he said. Taake recently shortened his hours from opening at 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. and said  it was because of his age. “The more birthdays I had it got harder to stay here that many hours,” Taake said. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
O.J. Taake, right, finishes cutting Morgan Laird’s hair March 22 in his barber shop in Olmsted. 84-year-old Taake said he has been barbering for the last 49 years, 44 of those years in that same shop in Olmsted. Taake said he took up barbering at age 35 after he had quit farming. A highlight of his job Taake said is talking to all kinds of people. His shop is only open three days but he said it keeps him plenty busy. “For a retired person now it makes a pretty good pastime,” he said. Taake recently shortened his hours from opening at 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. and said it was because of his age. “The more birthdays I had it got harder to stay here that many hours,” Taake said. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Senior Egyptian guard Devante Price puts up a shot Jan. 25 during a home game against Meridian.  Price‘s team won the first round of the All Star Game at John A. Logan. Price also took first in the  in the tournament’s dunk contest. -- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Senior Egyptian guard Devante Price puts up a shot Jan. 25 during a home game against Meridian. Price‘s team won the first round of the All Star Game at John A. Logan. Price also took first in the in the tournament’s dunk contest. — Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

Buyout offers still months away

Clinton Pecord looks at floodwaters March 25 on the back of his property in Cache. Pecord lives a few hundred yards from the house he grew up in and said flooding has been something he has dealt with all of his life. However the flooding in 2011 was the highest he has seen on the property. He said even though the flood was difficult, he is not sure he will accept a buyout. “It really depends on what kind of offer they give us,” Pecord said.-- Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen
Clinton Pecord looks at floodwaters March 25 on the back of his property in Cache. Pecord lives a few hundred yards from the house he grew up in and said flooding has been something he has dealt with all of his life. However the flooding in 2011 was the highest he has seen on the property. He said even though the flood was difficult, he is not sure he will accept a buyout. “It really depends on what kind of offer they give us,” Pecord said.– Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

Thirty-one years since he built his home, Clinton Pecord is not sure he is ready to leave it.

Pecord, a lifelong resident of Cache and no stranger to floodwater, built his house in 1982 where he and his wife Susan live only a few hundred yards from his childhood home. Pecords’ house was built 9 ft. off of the ground and has seen its share of high water. Pecord said the day during the  2011 flood when his family moved out of the house, the water was rising an inch an hour and said at its height, there was 19” of water in his house. It was the highest he had seen the water rise since living there. However, despite the heartache and hassle of having to move out and repair his home, Pecord said he is still not sure if he will accept the buyout he applied for.

“It really depends on what kind of offer they give us,” Pecord said.

Though Alexander County has been approved for state and federal assistance, it may still take several months for residents to see an offer on their flood-damaged homes.

Jeff Denny, Alexander County Engineer, said the next step his office is taking in the buyout process is to confirm granting agreements between the County, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA). These agreements lay out how the $11.7 million granted to the County is to be managed and spent. However, there are still several steps between the recent grant approval and applicants being paid for their homes.

Once the granting agreements have been made, Denny said the first steps are to hire a project manager and an appraisal company. During a County Board meeting March 26, Denny discussed with the board different possibilities of managing the project. Denny presented the idea of hiring Southern 5 for the job, though said nothing could be decided until the granting agreements are made. Both Denny and Ron Davis, State Hazard Mitigation Officer for IEMA said these first few steps are crucial to make sure the rest of the process runs smoothly and yields the best result for those who applied.

“We have to be sure that the people we hire and the work they put out meet certain requirements,” Denny said.  If the County were to make a quick hire without vetting enough candidates, it could in turn slow the process down even further.

“It just brings up all sorts of problems,” he said. Denny explained if the appraiser does a bad job, they could lose money.

Denny was first to admit the process was not a fast one.

“That’s just the unfortunate reality of how the government works,” he said. Once all the hires are made, appraisers will go over a series of months to each of the nearly 170 homes on the buyout list and assess the fair market value of each property. Once these appraisals are completed, Davis said they are sent to IEMA for approval. Once these steps are finished, offers can then be made to homeowners. Davis said it may be close to half a year before offers begin to be made.

“We are probably looking at four or five months down the line until they start to make some offers,” Davis said.

Denny said his office will soon send out letter to grant applicants explaining the next steps in the buyout process and said once the appraisal team and project manager are hired, there will be a public meeting where all applicants can come and ask questions of all involved in the project.

Applicants have been waiting for one and a half years to get word on when they may receive buyout money. Even though the applications were approved, some are still unsure if they will take the money. Pecord and his wife are on a fixed budget and he said they need to make sure they will be able to maintain the same quality of life should they accept the State’s offer.

“We are on a fixed income now and there is no way that I can go and finance a house and have a mortgage payment of $4-500 a month,” he said.

While money is an issue, Pecord said he is just not sure he wants to have to deal with more substantial flooding.

“When you become 65 years of age it becomes a little bit more of a chore,” he said.

Pecord said if he does take the buyout, the decision to move will be an emotional one. He said he does not relish the idea of leaving behind a place he’s known since he was young.

“To move and go somewhere else, it’s really sad thinking that you are going to lose all those memories,” he said.

However, whatever the decision, Pecord will have some time to make up his mind.

— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

County approved for buyout money

Alexander County received long awaited news Monday. It was approved for grants from both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR).

Alexander county engineer Jeff Denny said the funds received total $11.7 million with 75 percent coming from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), which handles the state’s FEMA requests. Denny said this amount will allow the county to give more money to those selling their property to the county because of damage from the 2011 flood.

“By having both parts of the funding we will be able to pay 100% of the fair market value,” Denny said. He said after the flooding in May of 2011, the county took applications for assistance until that Sept. when his office mailed the applications to FEMA. Denny said the application process was daunting, to say the least.

“It’s just a monumental amount of information that they need,” he said. Denny said the county received a lot of help from both Southern Illinois University and Beth Ellison.

“There wouldn’t be a buyout if it weren’t for all the assistance,” he said.

Now that the funds have been approved, Denny said his office can begin the next step of the buyout process: appraisals. He said his office will take bids from appraisal companies and once one has been chosen they will begin assessing each applicant’s property.

It has been a long year and a half for those waiting but, Denny said those homeowners that he has spoken with have been pleased with the news.

“I think they are very happy that we have gotten over that hurdle,” Denny said.

— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

 

County closer yet to buyouts

The Alexander County Board of Commissioners heard updates on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) buyouts during its regular meeting March 12.

County Engineer Jeff Denny said the approval process for the County to receive federal and state aid is nearing a close. With that, he nudged the Board to begin considering how they want the buyout process managed.

Denny said there is the option of a temporary, part time hire built in to the grant the County will receive from FEMA and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. During discussion, Board Vice Chair Chalen Tatum recommended approaching Southern Five about taking on the tasking of assessing property and managing the distribution of funds. However, no official decision was made.

During the meeting Jerry Smith informed the Board, the County will need to anticipate $75,000 to pay into the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund as well as another $65-75,000 to cover general liability.

Tatum announced at the meeting’s close the County will have an electronics recycling event March 16 at the Alexander County Courthouse in Cairo from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242

The Week in Photos: September 20, 2012


Sydney Miller of Olive Branch looks out at overgrown sandbags Sept. 16 on the back porch of his flood-ruined house in Olive Branch. Miller and his wife have been waiting for 13 months to receive FEMA buyout money, which he said will be used to pay down the personal loan they took out to renovate a house they now live in outside of town. – Isaac Smith


Dale Johnson, right, of Anna tries to keep his granddaughter Callysta Borders, of Anna, from falling out of her chair Sept. 15 in Olmsted during the Olmsted Catfish Days youth fishing competition. Despite the slow fishing, Borders and she said she had a great time. “It’s perfect. I love it,” Borders said. Six-year-old Borders won second place in her division for a bluegill she caught. This was the first year for the youth competition and Monica Edwards, a member of the Olmsted recreational committee, said it was to get kids more involved in the festival. “It was one more thing we thought we’d add this year to make it more youth oriented,” she said. – Isaac Smith


Patt McCann, middle left, and Phil Atherton, middle right, compete in the Olmsted Catfish Days pancake-eating contest Sept. 15 in Olmsted. The eating contest is in its second year and is sponsored by Lynda’s Restaurant. Last year the food of choice was hamburgers. This year’s contestants were challenged to eat as many of the five plate-sized pancakes as they could in ten minutes. The winner of this year’s event was Bobby Killius who finished 4 2/3 pancakes from his stack. – Isaac Smith


Waiting and watching: Tanner Calvert, of Cairo, waits for doves Sept. 13 on the Mississippi levee in Cairo. Calvert said he was raised on hunting, but he opening of dove season was always particularly special. “When I was young, it was a holiday,” he said. Calvert did not even get to fire a shot Sept. 13; he only saw one bird. “Doves are smart, smarter than I wish they were,” Calvert said. – Isaac Smith


Members of the Cairo high school volleyball team set up their net for practice Sept. 13 in the Cairo Junior Senior High School gymnasium. The team cannot yet host home games because they do not have a regulation net. Head coach Charlotte Lovelace said a net is being donated to the team and she hopes they will be able to host teams next season. – Isaac Smith


Freshman China Sutton watches a video with her teammates Sept. 17 while riding to their away game in Carbondale against the Trinity Falcons. The Pilots defeated the Falcons 15-10 in the third set for the team’s first win. – Isaac Smith


Sophomore Koree Simelton prepares to serve during the Pilot’s Sept. 17 away game against the Trinity Falcons at the old Carbondale High School. Simelton said she is very excited about volleyball now being offered at the high school level. She said she has always wanted to play. – Isaac Smith

Olive Branch still waiting on buyouts

Sydney Miller of Olive Branch looks out at overgrown sandbags Sept. 16 on the back porch of his flood-ruined house in Olive Branch. Miller and his wife have been waiting for 13 months to receive FEMA buyout money, which he said will be used to pay down the personal loan they took out to renovate a house they now live in outside of town – Isaac Smith | The Cairo Citizen

After months of waiting,  Olive Branch residents are hopeful they soon will receive the emergency buyouts Alexander county applied for 13 months ago.
Jeff Denny, Alexander County Engineer, said when the county applied for the mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) through the Illinois Emergency Management Association (IEMA), they were originally given an estimate of nine months before they could expect to see relief funds.
Life-long Olive Branch resident, Sydney Miller’s home was destroyed as floodwaters continued to rise during last year’s spring flood. Miller said he and his wife had no choice but to take out a loan and rebuild after their home was destroyed instead of waiting for the FEMA buyout money.
“We had to live somewhere,” he said.  Miller said he renovated a house just outside of town.
Ron Davis, state hazard mitigation officer for IEMA, said the buyout process is no simple matter.  The process begins with a pre-application the county sends to IEMA so the organization can approve the project. The county then sends in an official application, which is reviewed by FEMA.
“We determine who we want to get the funds, FEMA does an eligibility review to make sure all the paperwork is filled out properly,” Davis said.
Davis said once FEMA has approved the applications, they go to each home and give an appraisal based on its pre-flood value.  However, he said before cutting a check, FEMA takes into account any money a homeowner may have been paid by another agency to repair their home’s structure. He said this amount is then subtracted from the funding FEMA will provide unless the homeowner can provide receipts which prove they used the funds to actually repair the home. Davis said this is all to ensure no one profits from the disaster relief. Once all the numbers are crunched, then IEMA cuts a check to the county.
The process for the county does not end here, however. Davis said counties who are to receive buyout money must provide matching funds.
“We can only provide up to 75% of the total cost,” he said. To explain this stipulation, Davis used the example of a community who is to receive a total of $10 million in buyout funds. He said of that amount, IEMA would only be able to provide a maximum of $7.5 million. He said there are other agencies who are able to help the community make up the difference.
Once Alexander county pays homeowners for their buyout, the county then assumes ownership of the house and property and is responsible for the demolition of the home. Davis said after this process is complete, no insurable structure is to be built on the property.
The application Denny and his team sent in 13 months ago was returned, as FEMA needed the county to make some revisions. Denny said the revised application is back to the review board. He said all that is left do is to wait.
Davis said he is unable to give a timeline, but he said Alexander County’s application should be very close to approval. He said a recent staff change at FEMA has been the cause of some of the delay Alexander County has experienced.
Miller said since the process started, he anticipated this kind of waiting.
“It’s just like anything else, hurry up and wait,” Miller said. “When you work with the government it just takes time.”
— Isaac Smith can be reached at (618)-734-4242