Conway flood buyout

Flood consultant Jeff Ward hands a Voluntary Acquisition Project Property Owner Handbook to Peter Saltzstein, who is an alternate for a flood buyout

Fewer than 10 property owners eligible for a buyout by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have turned in requests for appraisals on their property, the first step in moving toward a buyout, according to a City of Conway spokesperson.

About 45 people gathered this past week at the city’s Public Safety building to get the most up-to-date information about the buyout from the city’s consultant Jeff Ward.

Although Ward says he can’t tell the property owners what to do, and he gets nothing out of their sales, he advised the group to sell their homes or businesses and move on.

“I’m truly going to give you the best advice I can. Flooding is getting worse, rain is getting heavier and water totals are getting higher every year,” he said.

Ward, who helps with buyouts all over the country, pointed to Alvin, Texas, to make his case. Several years back, he said, many of the city’s residents were flooded by 36 inches of rain that fell in 24 hours.

“That’s a crazy amount of rain,” he said.

But more recently the same city got 56 inches of rain.

“It’s getting worse every year…This is an opportunity to hear the offers and get out of harm’s way,” he said.

He said rain is getting heavier and storms are moving slower so there’s more water to fight.

“If you don’t take this opportunity real serious, I think that would be a mistake…You can’t predict what Mother Nature is going to do. It’s getting ugly,” he said.

The amount of money a homeowner or businessperson can get is based on the appraised value of a home on Oct. 7, 2016, the day before Hurricane Matthew washed through Horry County.

The agency’s offer of 75 percent of the property’s appraised value is the same for everyone, no matter if they have been placed in Tier 1, 2 or 3.

The city’s application included 57 properties with a total value of $10.63 million.

Tier 1 is the largest group with 27 properties, with a value of $5.37 million. Tier 2 has 11 properties with a value of $1.89 million and Tier 3 has 11 properties with a value of $3.36 million.

Tiers one and two have been approved. Ward and city officials say they have gotten verbal approval for Tier 3, but they hadn’t received the official written notification as of Monday. They are expecting it any time now.

At least one of the people at this past week’s meeting, Peter Saltzstein, isn’t on any of the three lists, but he hopes he still might qualify. Depending on how the buyout goes, he says it’s possible he might change from alternate status to Tier 3.

“We’ve got a lot of information to process,” he said after listening to Ward’s presentation.

He says they’ll be especially sorry if they stay, but lose their neighbors.

The agency’s offer of 75 percent of the property’s appraised value is the same for everyone, no matter if they have been placed in Tier 1, 2 or 3.

People who have flood insurance will deduct their coverage amount from their appraisal before figuring the 75 percent. They must also pay 25 percent of other costs including attorney’s fees and demolition fees.

The city has hired an appraisal company, Thompson’s Appraisals, to evaluate the properties. If property owners don’t like the company’s appraisals, they can get their own.

While the meeting was still going on one property owner got up, mumbled, “This is going to make me lose too much money,” and he left.

Sue Wagoner, who attended the meeting for a friend, said, “The meeting was good. They covered every point.”

She said property owners now have big decisions to make including not only what to do, but also where to go.

Teddy Hucks, an agent with Century 21 McAlpine, also attended the meeting on behalf of a friend.

After hearing the presentation, he said he thinks people need to go through the appraisal process to see where they stand and then make an informed decision.

“I think he was brutally honest,” he said of Ward’s presentation.

Ward’s message resonated with property owner Faye Bradham, who said, “I think we’ve made a start. I mean there are a lot of people in this room that really need it. When [Hurricane] Floyd came in 1999 and we got 20 inches of rain in one day that was scary.

“I just know it will come again. It’s just a matter of time and we many never get this opportunity again.”

Even though FEMA is providing the buyout money, it is the City of Conway that will actually own the property. In a past buyout, the City was able to secure a grant to help the flood victims cover some costs that FEMA didn’t. But City Administrator Adam Emrick said the city isn’t in a position to be able to do that this time.

After the homes and businesses are gone from the property, the cleared land must stay that way forever. The City can use it for some things, but no kind of impervious surface can ever be put there.

Ward said it is possible for neighbors or homeowner associations to lease and use some of the vacant property as long as they don’t put down any impervious surfaces.

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I'm the editor of the Horry Independent, a weekly newspaper in Conway, South Carolina. I cover city hall and courts, among many other subjects. Know of a good story? Call me at 843-488-7241.

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