- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - The thought of leaving her flooded-out home on Barton Beach Road brings Carla Johnson to the point of tears, but she’s ready to go if the government will make a buyout offer - almost any reasonable offer.

“At this point, I’m pretty devastated. My world’s been flipped upside down,” she said as she described her no-win choices: leaving, or staying in the house, repairing it after the Feb. 21 floods and risking the same fate next time the Wildcat Creek floods.

The two-story house where she’s lived for 29 years is filled with memories of 28 Christmases, summer evenings listening the water flow north to the Wabash, the sounds of fish jumping, flocks of geese honking in the spring. It’s not easy for Johnson to consider letting it all go.

She was offered a buyout by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 2003 flood, but she said FEMA offered only 40 percent of what her house is worth. They - she and her husband, along with her mother, who lived next door - turned down the offer.

“As bad as we hate to say, yeah,” she said when asked if she was willing to leave. “We love it out here. It’s so beautiful out here when it’s not flooded. Nature. Natural life.”

An offer from FEMA looks like a long shot at this point.

“At this time there are no FEMA funds, directly from FEMA or through the state, for any buyout activities,” Laurie Wilson, Tippecanoe County grant administrator, told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/1gccJo4 ). “There’s always a possibility.”

After the 2003 flood, Johnson, her mother and her neighbor could have been eligible for a buyout that would have offered 100 percent of the appraised value of their homes. FEMA would have paid its standard 75 percent, and a grant from Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority would have filled in the remaining 25 percent. Additionally, the county would have picked up the costs for closing, attorney fees, professional fees, demolition and restoration of the land.

But the Johnsons turned down the offer in December 2009, believing the buyout talk was still for just 40 percent of their home’s value.

“The chances of funds being immediately available are not promising,” Wilson said. “But we are putting together a full application package to submit to Indiana Department of Homeland Security for them, to FEMA, on our behalf.

“Basically, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

The package the county is assembling will be filed with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security as a proposed mitigation project plan, designed to remove the risk of loss of life by removing those living along the creek, razing their homes and restoring the area to its natural environment, Wilson said.

It would eliminate the need for first responders to go into harm’s way to rescue residents during floods, as they did Feb. 21 when an ice jam on the Wildcat Creek caused a flash flood that consumed the dry earth in less than 20 minutes.

Wilson said a neighborhood meeting is planned for 5 p.m. March 13 to discuss the proposed mitigation project and what forms neighbors need to retrieve to speed the process along. Perhaps in two or three months, the county can have a proposal to Indiana Department of Homeland Security, and then a few months after that, state officials will decide whether to forward the request to FEMA.

Since the Feb. 21 flooding doesn’t fit into the category of a disaster declaration, the only way the county might entice federal intervention is to perform a project that will ensure that there will never be another resident flooded out in that area of the Wildcat Creek.

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