City to buy flood-damaged homes - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

City to buy flood-damaged homes

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MT. VERNON, Ill. -- Homeowners and Mount Vernon city leaders are watching flood waters closely after flash flooding damaged dozens of homes last year.

Several homes sustained major flood damage when more than five inches of rain fell in Jefferson County in September 2018. Many homes on Bishop and 7th Streets were affected by flash flooding. Now the city is offering to buy 17 of the homes that are in the floodplain and destroyed by the September flood. 

Eric Beal is a Mt. Vernon resident that is still recovering from the flood after losing nearly everything, "I knew we had floods around here, but nothing like that. We tried to leave our house in the truck, but had to leave in a boat."

Beal lives off of 7th Street near Bishop Court, an area the city calls a floodplain. Mayor John Lewis says the city is offering to buy 17 of the homes in that zone. 

"Those houses never should have been built there," Lewis said. "I believe they were built in 1930s and 40s before we tried to keep people out of the floodplains."

Lewis says the city is working with the state on a program to buy out all the homes in the floodplain and return it to nature, "We will return it to a floodplain and we will plant specific grasses that the government requires." 

Beal says if the city would just fix the drains and the creeks, residents in the area wouldn't have that problem, "The creek has a bunch of trees and junk in it. If they would clean that out, it would solve a bunch of the problems."

News 3's Emily Manley was in Mt. Vernon on Thursday. She checked on the drains and creeks while it was raining, where she found debris and a television blocking the water from flowing down stream. 

City Manager Mary Ellen Bechtel said Mt. Vernon is seeing more flooding lately than they ever have before, "When it happened in September and then you hear about all the rain for this week, it just makes us really worried." 

As for the 17 homeowners in the floodplain, they have to decide if they want the city to buy their house or make necessary improvement to live there. 

During the month of February, appraisals on all the homes will be completed and then homeowners will decide if they want the city to buy their house. 

"If they don't take the buyout, they will be required to lift their house and their foundation above the level of the flood plain," Mount Vernon City Manager Mary Ellen Bechtel. "There will be a restriction that the city cannot sell the land or improve it and it will have to remain a floodplain forever."

Beal said he feels forced to accept the offer, but is ready to feel safe again, "It kind of is a blessing in a way, but hopefully the city does give me what I want."

The city says the buyout and then the tear down that would follow will take approximately two years to complete and is estimated to cost around $833,000.

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