12 families to be part of buyout of homes

Houses on Tabler and Minooka roads to be demolished, land left vacant to prevent chronic flooding

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

MORRIS – Twenty years ago, Emily and Stirling Burns bought their dream home overlooking the Aux Sable Creek on Tabler Road. In that home, they raised their children, ran a business and enjoyed what Emily calls a “quiet country life.”

“It was so beautiful out here,” Emily Burns said. “We loved it.”

But after two floods and thousands of dollars in damage, the couple have lost their sentimentality. The Burnses plan to tear the home to the ground and leave the lot vacant forevermore.

“I’m just exhausted,” Emily Burns said. “I spent weeks scraping and cleaning mud off of our belongings. After going through it two times, it’s just too much.”

The Burnses are one of 12 families on Tabler and Minooka Roads participating in a voluntary buyout program organized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. All of the homes were severely damaged by last April’s flood, but several homeowners, like the Burnses, have lived through previous floods, as well.

Through the buyout – formally known as a Hazard Mitigation Property Acquisition – the homes will be bought, demolished and the land will be left vacant to prevent chronic flooding damage.

“We have identified the area near Tabler and Minooka roads as vulnerable,” said Jim Lutz, director of the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency. “It’s an area that has seen chronic flooding.”

Lutz said the county paid roughly $20,000 in emergency management for the Tabler Road area in last year’s flood.

Leaving the area free of homes and businesses will ensure no more damage is done to homeowners or money is spent by the county.

While FEMA has promised 75 percent of the funding needed for the buyouts, state, county and municipal governments will still need to pitch in for the project to become a reality.

The entire project will cost $3 million, leaving the county and state to come up with about $1 million between them, said Lutz, who attended Wednesday’s Grundy County Finance Committee meeting to ask the county for buyout funding.

“What we need is a baseline number from the county so we can begin discussions with the state,” he said.

After much discussion, the finance committee decided to wait until next month before committing to any funds to the project, keeping the process at a standstill.

Doug and Kathy Sachtleben, who live next door to the Burnses, are anxiously awaiting a decision. Until they know if their home can be bought by the county, they are waiting to remodel.

“Until they make a decision, we’re just piddling away,” Doug said. “We’re hoping that [the buyout] happens, honestly, because I don’t know what the market will bear, especially for a house with flood damage.”

The Sachtlebens have replaced their walls, some bedrooms and flooring, but don’t want to completely fix the home if it will be torn down anyway.

“It doesn’t make any sense to pour more money into it,” Doug said. “There is still $30,000 to $40,000 worth of work left to be done.”

The county was reluctant to promise any money due to uncertainty in the budget with point of sale legislation to be determined.

Still, committee members discussed putting forth $25,000 to $50,000 for the project.

During the meeting, Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said this was a good opportunity to invest in a project, mostly paid for by FEMA, that will save the county money in the future.

“This isn’t the first time this area has flooded and we don’t know when it will happen again,” Severson said.

Some of the families in the area have “dug in their heels,” and are committed to staying in their homes, but the Burnses are ready for the buyout. Emily said she is already worried about flooding in spring after this winter’s ice and snow melts.

“It’s hard because you never know. It could happen again this year,” she said. “We’re ready to get out.”

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