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'We’ve been living by the skin of our teeth': St. Charles Co. homeowners file petition to get help after July flood

In the meantime, the homeowners tell 5 On Your Side, they are trying to find solutions.

O'FALLON, Mo. — Multiple homeowners in O'Fallon, Missouri, were forced to leave by Mother Nature back in July due to historic flooding. Some haven't been able to go back.

5 On Your Side spoke to homeowner Heather Thiele on that damp day, July 26. 

Thiele was one of the families rescued by boat on Belleau Creek Drive and she said, the feeling of needing to be saved hasn't left. Since then, her home has been gutted and her family has been living in an apartment.

"We did learn we had the best of best homeowner’s insurance, and it doesn’t cover flooding," she added. "We had FEMA flood insurance...but we had only one foot in the floodplain and had dwelling...so they didn’t cover inside or outside."

She said they've been paying for the apartment's rent and the mortgage for the home, despite not living there.

Thiele said Federal Emergency Management Agency offers immediate support, but long-term, it's been a hurdle.

"We’ve continued to apply for grants and different things just to be denied and put through the wringer," she added.

Dan Belz, Thiele's neighbor from across the street, said he also carries the weight from the summer. 

"We’ve been living by the skin of our teeth. Somebody has to do something for us," he said. 

Feeling helpless, Belz said he formed a petition.

"We have a petition written, nine or 10 neighbors out of the 12 signed it, we're talking about a buyout," Thiele said.

Thiele and Belz said their goal is to see if St. Charles County can buy these homes out.

A County spokesperson shared this comment:

St. Charles County submitted a Notice of Interest to the State Emergency Management Agency to develop a grant application for voluntary buyout of homes in the subdivision, but no funding is currently available that these homes would be eligible for.

5 On Your Side was told it could take years for a buyout to happen. 

"They are still working on the 2019 buyout that they set up and that kind of gives you an idea of how long that will take," Thiele said.

Thiele and Belz said they were given the option to raise and elevate the home, but it would have to come out of their own pocket. 

In the meantime, the homeowners tell 5 On Your Side, they are trying to find solutions.

For Thiele, despite living in this home for more than 30 years, she said it's time to make moves.

She put her home on the market last week. 

Thiele is hoping an investor can come in and buy these homes.

Here's the full statement from Robert Myers, St. Charles County's Planning and Zoning Division Director:

St. Charles County has for years successfully pursued State and Federal grants to offer buyout of flood damaged homes from willing sellers in designated areas. These grants have included Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds, Hazard Mitigation Grant funds, Flood Mitigation Grants, and Severe Repetitive Loss funds. Additionally, the County has pursued grants to clear debris and growth from creeks to insure they function properly, including Emergency Watershed Protection Program funding and Silver Jackets funding. For instance, I believe in 2010 the County secured funds for a Belleau Creek Ditch Cleanout Project. Each funding source is tied to specific requirements which may include household income limits or having repetitive flood insurance claims.

Unfortunately, St. Charles County has no ready grant funding to offer purchase of homes on Belleau Creek Road or Belleau Lake Drive damaged by the July 26, 2022, flash floods (DR-4665-MO). St. Charles County has submitted a Notice of Interest to Missouri’s State Emergency Management Agency indicating our interest to develop a grant application concerning Belleau Lake Estates Subdivision. Although the most recent round of funding is unavailable to the County, we are committed to pursuing grant funding in 2023.

The process is deliberate and takes time. Based on the County’s experience, if approved, a voluntary buyout project using State or Federal buyout grants typically take several years to reach the stage of making offers to homeowners. For example, based on historic Mississippi River flooding in 2019, St. Charles County has been undergoing the Missouri Department of Economic Development’s process to qualify for some $15 million in CDBG-DR funding for voluntary flood buyouts, and in October 2022 the State was finally ready to send St. Charles County a grant agreement for execution. Most likely offers to homeowners using that CDBG-DR grant won’t begin until 2023. And those grant funds must be spent in areas pre-approved by the State Department of Economic Development and in conformance with a state-wide mitigation plan.

Belleau Lake Estates Subdivision was platted 1961-1963 and the homes constructed over several years. This predated any recognition of the risks for floodplain development. In 1972 the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers prepared a study of flood prone areas of Dardenne and Belleau Creeks. In 1978, St. Charles County joined the National Flood Insurance Program which allowed property owners to obtain flood insurance. Banks and other lenders use Flood Insurance Rate Maps to assess flood risk and determine whether they will require flood insurance as a prerequisite for a loan. For St. Charles County, participation in this program has obligated the County to enforce a very specific set of development standards within designated flood hazard areas. The purpose is to over time reduce the risk to life and property as well as reduce flood insurance claims. The east end of Belleau Lake Estates Subdivision has since 1978 (see attached Flood Insurance Rate Map) been designated a regulatory flood zone. The regulatory floodplain for the subdivision can be found at the following County webpage under the “Physical Features” and “Flood Zones” tabs: https://maps.sccmo.org/public_web_map/. Within designated flood zones, St. Charles County is obligated to require that residential structures damaged more than 50.0% in value over any five-year period must either be removed from the floodplain or rebuilt or retrofitted to bring the structure into compliance with floodplain regulations. Depending on the “base flood elevation”, a basement might be filled with dirt to bring it into compliance, or a home might have to be elevated on an earthen mound, a higher foundation, or sometimes piers. State and Federal Emergency Management Agencies periodically audit permits issued by St. Charles County for compliance with floodplain regulations, and a failure to comply risks removal from the National Flood Insurance Program and everyone losing their flood insurance. We are committed to avoiding that possibility.

The County will continue seeking available funding to offer voluntary buyouts of flood damaged homes.

Back in September, FEMA shared these numbers and information:

  • FEMA has already provided money to more than 10,500 households in the St. Louis area for the July flooding.
  • FEMA has provided more than $32.3 million in Individual Assistance grants.
  • Those grants are for damage and needs not covered by insurance.
  • In addition, FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program has paid $19.5 million in claims for policyholders.
  • By law, FEMA is not allowed to duplicate insurance payments or assistance provided by other sources, such as the Red Cross.
  • FEMA does not provide grants to businesses or for secondary homes.
  • Everyone who applies with FEMA will get a letter. 

FEMA encouraged everyone to read its letter carefully.

FEMA Individual Assistance is for:

  • Rental Assistance if you need to relocate because of flood damage.
  • Personal Property that was damaged or destroyed by flooding.
  • Lodging Reimbursement if you had to stay in a hotel temporarily.
  • Basic Home Repairs for homeowners whose primary residence was damaged by flooding.
  • Other Serious Needs caused by recent flooding.
  • FEMA does not pay for lost or spoiled food or insurance deductibles.

FEMA said assistance is not the same as insurance. FEMA assistance only provides funds for basic work to make a home habitable.

If a flood survivor has questions about their determination letter, then they can take the letter to one of the Disaster Recovery Centers. Flood survivors can meet one-on-one with someone who can review their file and help them with any items they might need to provide. 

They can also go online to Disaster Assistance.gov or call the Disaster Assistance Help Line at 800-621-3362.

If there's something newsworthy happening where you live send us an email to tips@ksdk.com and our team of reporters will look into it.

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