Residents of the town of Bowers are facing the possible loss of federal flood insurance protection.
The town of Bowers will be placed on probationary status by the federal government on Nov. 21 unless it clears up a number of alleged discrepancies that make it eligible for protection under Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Flood Insurance Program.
Town authorities are working to clear up the problem, but are facing several hurdles in meeting the FEMA-imposed deadline, said Mayor Ron Hunsicker.
The problem came up after a May 2010 FEMA assessment identified a number of problems, according to a notice released Aug. 22 by FEMA spokesman Peter Herrick.
Herrick said town officials had failed to administer floodplain management development and had not kept proper documentation on the program. Hunsicker acknowledged the problems, but said the town's government was somewhat overwhelmed by the FEMA mandates.
"All of us are volunteers," Hunsicker said. "We've all got full-time jobs. Everyone has done the best they can as nonprofessionals in trying to manage the town."
Ordinances governing flood mitigation requirements had been set up in 1990 and revised in 1993, but had not been addressed again in the 17 years between then and the 2010 FEMA visit, Hunsicker said.
"They found our codes were not in compliance with their standards," he said.
Town officials moved immediately to address the discrepancies, including an action plan, new ordinances, revised procedures, and updated record-keeping policies.
But it is the past that is coming back to haunt Bowers residents.
"The town has an obligation to mitigate any prior noncompliance issues, to the maximum extent possible, given the practical and legal constraints," Hunsicker said.
Primarily, that means finding documentation that show buildings and other structures meet standards for issuing flood insurance policies.
"We're trying to find that documentation and produce what FEMA needs," Hunsicker said.
Town Solicitor Barrett Edwards has been working both with Bowers and federal officials to clear up the situation.
"At this point, I think FEMA and the town are mostly on the same page," he said. "The town understands what needs to be done.
"The biggest issue is providing the documentation and resolving the outstanding violations," many of which were incurred under the old regulations, Edwards said.
That may be hard to do, given the number of years the ordinances weren't enforced, he said, but added FEMA may be amenable to finding some sort of middle ground.
If the town is placed on probation, any of the 123 flood insurance policy holders who renew or purchase insurance will pay a $50 surcharge. Herrick's letter said that if Bowers "fails to make adequate progress" by May 21, 2014, the flood insurance program could be suspended, making federal assistance unavailable. In addition, Bowers residents would not be eligible for federal grants, loans or guarantees for structures in flood hazard areas.
Hunsicker said he and other town officials are working to make sure that does not happen.
"What needs to be understood is that we've got 17 years of problems we need to solve," he said.
"We're working on it and we're doing the best we possibly can under the circumstances."