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Town to discuss FEMA floodplain questions

by jmaloni
Thu, Jul 15th 2010 11:00 am

by Susan Mikula Campbell

The Town of Wheatfield will hold a public information meeting at 7 p.m. today (July 15) at its Community Center to go over the new Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain maps.

The FEMA maps and the flood insurance costs were a major point of discussion at Monday's Town Board meeting. The meeting ended with no vote on approving the maps, as the board wanted to hear more resident comments at tonight's meeting, as well as look into the possibility of following in the footsteps of some 2,000 communities across the nation that have rejected the FEMA program.

About a third of approximately 900 additional Wheatfield homes FEMA added to the revised floodplain this year still remain on the maps, despite town protests. Also, FEMA has yet to agree to town elevation figures, which show a number of residences in the Bergholz/Sawyer Creek area, which have been on the maps for years, and the town believes should be taken off.

At issue is the expensive flood insurance required for homes that are listed as being in a floodplain.

Banks hesitate to take on the risk of even a conventional mortgage for properties in the floodplain without flood insurance, Town Attorney Bob O'Toole told a resident who asked what would happen if the town simply did not adopt the floodplain maps.

Wheatfield United spokesman Louis Scozzafava questioned board members on FEMA'S debit and other areas that have opted out of FEMA.

"Do you really know what you're voting for?" he asked.

Supervisor Bob Cliffe admitted that the town still has homework to do. He wants to discuss the matter with at least one of the towns that have opted out. His concern is that although opting out would save affected residents thousands of dollars on flood insurance, it might also put all residents in the position of not being able to sell their houses because buyers won't be able to get mortgages.

O'Toole also pointed out that most lenders sell mortgages on the secondary market as well, often involving federal programs.

"The whole program is like an octopus, but the system is broke," said Wheatfield United member Gary Long, noting that if even one person here loses his home because he can't afford flood insurance, it's too much.

FEMA maps go into effect Sept. 17. Residents who get their insurance early can receive discounts on their insurance. Residents also are advised by town officials to check with their lenders to see if flood insurance is required if only a portion of their property is in the floodplain but the home structure itself is not. Individual homeowners who believe their home elevation is high enough that it shouldn't be included in the floodplain also can hire a surveyor and make their own challenge to the FEMA maps.

In other matters:

  • A charity event held last weekend at a Homeyer Road residence brought protests from neighbors, who were upset by the noise and the blocking of their street except local traffic.

Gooch Fest, held to benefit Niagara Hospice, featured four bands, raffles and food.

However, according to neighbors, it also featured loud music late into the night and obscenities screamed over a microphone.

Larry Plotner told the Town Board that he had called the Niagara County Sheriff's Office to complain, but was told "take it up with the Town Board; they have a permit."

O'Toole responded that the town does not issue event permits.

Another resident said that although the event has been held for about three years, the noise and inconvenience has "never been to this magnitude." Another complained, "People were urinating in people's yards." Others complained about the road being blocked with unlighted sawhorses.

O'Toole said it was in the purview of the highway superintendent to block roads for events, and it has been done in the past for neighborhood block parties.

Highway Superintendent Art Kroening said he hadn't observed any problems at the event and he had "paid my $20 and stayed until about 10 p.m."

  • Wheatfield resident Danny Maerten presented term limit proposals that he suggested ought to go on the November ballot. He suggested that councilmen be limited to two consecutive four-year terms, and that the supervisor's term be extended from two to four years, with the supervisor serving only two consecutive terms.

Cliffe repeated what he has said in the past - that he is in favor of term limits for the supervisor. Previous supervisor, Timothy Demler, served for 14 years.

  • Paul Cozad resigned as chairman of the Veterans Park Task Force due to personal and physical reasons, but asked to remain on the committee. The park would be a place for meditation, contemplation and reflection, he said.

Cliffe thanked Cozad for his service and invited local veterans to join the committee to help with the project.

  • Councilman Larry Helwig reported that he had received a reply from Congressman Christopher Lee, who he had written about the possibility of giving Wheatfield its own zip code. The census shows that the town is continuing to grow.

"It would be nice to have our own post office, but for now, it would be a huge victory to have one zip code," Helwig wrote to Reynolds.

Residences in the town currently have zip codes from Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Sanborn and Lockport. Some have North Tonawanda phone exchanges and Niagara Falls zip codes. Helwig's own address is the same as one in North Tonawanda.

  • The board approved a request for a streetlight for the Adams Fire Co. substation at Trails End near Klemer Road.
  • The next regular Wheatfield Town Board meeting will be July 26, with public hearings at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., followed by the regular meeting.

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