No one wants to see Pacific Junction residents left behind, but some are ready to go. No one wants to see Pacific Junction wiped off the map after being decimated by flooding last month, but there are more questions than answers.
Glenwood Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Rachel Reis was adamant on this point: Nearby communities will help those hit by flooding get back on their feet.
But at a meeting Wednesday night that drew roughly 200 residents of Mills County, Iowa, she also had to be realistic: The recovery of Pacific Junction and its surrounding unincorporated areas could take at least two to four years.
The crowd that packed the auditorium at the Glenwood Resource Center murmured in distress.
An informal survey of about 100 Pacific Junction residents this week revealed that many are still unsure of how to proceed, Reis said. Fifty percent of respondents said they were unclear about their next step, 40% vowed to stay and 10% indicated that they were leaving for good.
Another resident said a poll he posted on Facebook indicated much the opposite: a majority of the 50 or so respondents said they’d like to take a buyout of their flooded properties and move elsewhere.
Pacific Junction, with a population of less than 500, was hit hard by levee failures last month that sent floodwaters streaming into town, filling every structure with feet of water. It was only last week that the last batch of residents could return to their homes and businesses and start clearing out flood-soaked possessions.
Wednesday’s meeting was intended to update residents on levee repairs, temporary and permanent housing options, debris removal and a realistic recovery timeline. Representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the U.S. Small Business Administration and other groups attended, too.
And residents came with plenty of questions of their own, asking about eligibility for FEMA aid, how quickly temporary levees can be installed to prevent future flooding and whether buyouts would be offered.
Terry Brown, a mitigation specialist with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said any government-funded buyout program will depend on the pot of money available and the interest of local communities.
Funding for buyouts in flood-prone areas is typically split, Brown said: The federal government picks up 75% of the tab, the state kicks in 10% and local governments supply 15%.
The purchase price for those interested and eligible for a buyout is based on the pre-flood fair market value, and any structures on buyout properties are demolished and the land becomes green space — nothing can be built there in the future.
“The whole purpose of the program is to remove people from harm’s way,” Brown said.
If Pacific Junction and Mills County were to sign off on a buyout and the money became available, any number of residents could participate, from a handful to many, he said.