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floodplain

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Photo by Mason Callejas

The Maricopa City Council received an update from the local flood control district on Tuesday, showcasing some of their recent accomplishments while also reminding council of a few struggles.

One major concern for Maricopa is the potential for redrawing of floodplain maps by the federal government that could negatively affect the future growth of Maricopa.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration works with the Army Corps of Engineers to create the floodplains, and though it is not official, there have been rumors the new maps will likely widen the flood plan.

Those new numbers could affect Maricopa in multiple ways.

The first would be limiting development in the areas now deemed part of the floodplain. The second could be increased costs to the city by forcing them to redesign the channels, making them deeper and wider to handle a heavier flow of water. The third is that it could increase insurance costs for homes that were previously outside the floodplain but are now drawn in.

Recent efforts by the city has moved some Maricopans out of the floodplain by engineering flood control areas around Copper Sky Regional Park. The city sent letters to the affected property owners in July saying their properties have “been identified as no longer being in a high-risk flood zone.”

Though now not a requirement, the city stated in the letter they encourage these properties, and any others not considered a “high-risk flood zone,” to maintain or acquire flood insurance as those homes can still be susceptible to flooding.

During the council’s work session Tuesday, Maricopa Flood Control District manager David Alley highlighted efforts the organization has made to mitigate potential flood damage by cleaning up certain washes and repairing areas experiencing dramatic erosion.

Since 2010 the MFCD has improved a total of 10 miles of flood control channels in and around Maricopa, Alley said, leaving only about two miles of channel waiting on improvements.

As part of their maintenance program, the MFCD continually cleans dumped garbage and landscaping debris from the washes.

Trash is an ongoing problem for the MFCD, Alley said. Nonetheless, it’s a job that must be done he said.

“We clear it, otherwise people get the idea it’s OK,” Alley said.

As part of the maintenance program the district also clears overgrowth, which, though helping with erosion, can cause water retention in the event of a flood.

In both the Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa washes reeds, scrub brush and salt cedar have all been cleared to improve drainage.

During the clearing process, the MFCD looks for places where erosion may be compromising the integrity of the channels.

In three separate areas of the Santa Rosa Wash near the Santa Rosa Springs subdivision, the flood control district noticed areas near property lines that had been dramatically eroded away, Alley said.

That particular type of erosion was likely caused by landscape irrigation or other water pipes that may have broken. To fix the issue MFCD “dug out” the areas and rebuilt those areas of the channel with compacted dirt and a two-foot layer of rocks.

Maricopa has dodged a major flood event for more than 10 years, Alley said. However, when it comes, the channels need to be clean and strong.

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Maricopa's floodplain designations have been an obstacle to development of the Heritage District.

The city council voted Tuesday to apply for grant money to conduct a floodplain analysis instead of assisting a local food bank with relocation costs.

The decision to fund a floodplain analysis of the Heritage District, instead of assisting the relocation of F.O.R. Maricopa food bank, came after a contentious debate over where the funds would best serve the city.

The money in question, an approximate $265,000 Community Development Block Grant, is a biannual federal grant awarded to the city through the state and is meant to aid community development needs, in particular the needs of low- and moderate-income persons.

Both the floodplain analysis and the food bank relocation meet the CDBG requirements, a fact which became the main source of contention.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Terri Crain spoke on behalf of F.O.R. as the organization’s volunteer director, Wendy Webb, was unable to attend the council meeting. Crain pled for the funds she said would go to assist in the purchasing of property and the construction of a new building.

“If the food bank closes its doors, there will be a serious and immediate threat to the welfare of this community,” Crain said. “For those of you who know what we do, and how it helps our community, you realize that they [F.O.R.] are an essential service in town.”

The council, despite Crain’s urgings, opted to fund the floodplain analysis for multiple reasons. The city’s ability to bring a considerable portion of the Heritage District out of the floodplain is likely the weightiest.

Mayor Christian Price said the choice was not an easy one to make. The decision, he said, came down to the long-term benefits of development for the city.

“That’s kind of an issue for everybody in this area based on a 2007 post-Katrina world, it’s stuck,” Price said. “They can’t adjust their home, they can’t fix it, they can’t tear it down, its grandfathered in, but if you’re a business and you want to come in and create something there, what are you going to do for the floodplain?”

If the analysis deems any part of the Heritage District to be within one foot of the required elevation to be considered safe from flooding, it is possible numerous homes could be removed from the floodplain designation. That elevation could help property owners in the Heritage District, a large number of which are low to moderate-income, sell their homes and increase the value of their properties.

CDBG funds have, in the past, been used to help similar organizations like F.O.R.

Against Abuse found a home in Maricopa because of its access to CDBG funds.

Councilmember Vince Manfredi attempted to highlight the importance of the floodplain analysis by saying he would have voted for it instead of helping Against Abuse had the analysis been an option two years ago.

“If [Against Abuse] was up against the Heritage District Floodplain Analysis that would pull all these people out of the floodplain,” Manfredi said, “I would have voted for the Heritage District Analysis that would have pulled all the people out of the flood plain.”

Councilmember Nancy Smith was the lone advocate for using CDBG funds to help the food bank relocate. Others voiced support for the food bank, but instead voted for the analysis, saying it was the more “common sense” thing to do.

Smith wanted to find a way to do both by using some of the city’s $1 million in Contingency Funds to pay for the analysis. That option would, however, be difficult given that the city is about to transition into the next fiscal year.

The council, in the end, unanimously approved the use CDBG funds for the floodplain analysis.

The food bank has temporarily moved its offices to 19756 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 108, leaving the former county jail building that will be removed to make way for the overpass.

Public Works Director Bill Fay had hoped to bring good news about the North Santa Cruz Wash to the city council on Tuesday, but new estimates from the Army Corps of Engineers could actually broaden the floodplain in Maricopa.

Maricopa City Council was presented with a less-than-favorable floodplain update, evidence of likely delayed development.

“Right now, we are kind of sunk at this point.” – Public Works Director Bill Fay

The City of Maricopa, in conjunction with several developers, was planning to construct a channel that would dramatically shrink the city’s four major flood zones. That would allow for development in areas currently residing in the floodplain.

But those plans for the North Santa Cruz Wash Capital Improvement Project have hit a wall, according to Maricopa Public Works Director Bill Fay.

Citing adjusted flow-rate assessments by the Army Corps of Engineers, Fay indicated their current timeline for development, which was slated for sometime in 2018, must now be reconsidered.

In the early fall of 2016, the city completed a tenable assessment of flow at around 7,500 cubic feet per second (cfs).

As Fay put it, they “were right there at the gate about to go into hard design.”

The Corps, however, conducted a larger, regional floodplain study, and at a conference “verbally expressed” an inflow assessment in excess of 18,000 cfs, almost tripling the assessment of the city.

“This blows all of our numbers out of the water,” Fay said. “This blows our design out of the water. We couldn’t accommodate this.”

The Corps’ official report has not been made directly available to the city, but Fay said county officials have seen it.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is the primary flood-control agency, deems the Corps numbers to be the “best available data,” a fact Fay believes to be damning.

“Right now, we are kind of sunk at this point.” Fay said. “The city has spent all of the money on studying that we had. We do not have the budget.”

The Corps is set to release an official draft report sometime in March or May of this year that will include the new flow rates. At that point, FEMA plans to redraw the federal floodplain maps, an action which, according to Fay, means the floodplain is actually going to get much larger.

If the floodplains do increase in size, not only will future development be in jeopardy, but several current development projects will likely be in jeopardy of resting within the new floodplain.

Some development companies have been sitting on parcels of land in the floodplain since the project was initiated nearly 10 years ago.

Fay said that prior to the Corps’ verbal assessment the project was “on time and under budget.” However, now, “until the draft report comes out, we [the city] can’t do anything,” he said

Mayor Christian Price reluctantly agreed with Fay, saying, “Until the official report is dropped, there is nothing we can do.”

Dan Frank

By Dan Frank

Floodplains are a priority concern for the City of Maricopa because they impact economic development and public safety. You don’t have to look too far back in Maricopa’s history to see impacts of flooding. October 2016 will be 33 years since the record flood of 1983, when Tropical Storm Octave dumped 12 inches of rain in parts of Arizona.  The region was hit again in 1993 by a series of winter storms that had a devastating cumulative impact on the State, but thankfully a lesser impact on Maricopa due to improvements to the channels.

An Army Corps of Engineers report from July 2015 states “…a major flood the magnitude of 1983 today could devastate the entire region.”  As president of the Maricopa Flood Control District Board and a civil engineer with 20+ years of experience in drainage and flood control, floodplains and flooding are priority concerns of mine.

Maricopa is roughly 42 square miles, with approximately 13 square miles of land in the floodplain – roughly 30 percent of our land area.  This is prime development land, and while the Santa Cruz watershed is currently under study by the Army Corps of Engineers, solutions are needed that will benefit residents, stakeholders and facilitate future growth.

One of my concerns is residents who, based on where they live, are required to pay expensive flood insurance premiums, which can be thousands of dollars annually. They purchased their homes in good faith prior to a study which placed them in the floodplain.  I find it intolerable that residents are left to languish in the floodplain when there are implementable solutions.

The potential for flooding should be a concern for everyone in Maricopa. I’ve spoken with residents who recounted the devastation and challenges of the ’83 event. They described how they were cut off from help because access was compromised by flooding. Some had to be evacuated by helicopter due to medical issues.

Another concern is deferred maintenance of the Santa Rosa north of Rancho El Dorado, which could lead to a “debris dam” of trees and brush blocking the bridge, forcing water around the abutments and washing out the roadway.  We need to partner with Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) toward a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding maintenance of the Santa Rosa.

To resolve these issues, we need to mitigate flooding potential. Solutions should put residents needs first, but they will ultimately benefit development overall. We also need to develop a plan with GRIC for maintenance of the waterways north of town.

I look forward to serving as councilmember again. I will offer my 20+ years of experience as a civil engineer to identify and implement solutions for critical flood control issues.  By having a seat on both the Maricopa Flood Control District and Maricopa City Council, I will be able to use my knowledge, experience and expertise networks to bring about positive change to these critical issues.  Thank you.


Dan Frank is president of the Maricopa Flood Control District Board and a candidate for city council.

 

Maricopa-flood-plains

The Sorrento development is on the planned North Santa Cruz Wash channel.

Maricopa may have moved one step closer to solving one flood-control issue while avoiding the responsibility of a floodplain administrator.

The city council unanimously approved an amendment to the Sorrento Planned Area Development at its meeting Tuesday. That involves an area along the planned North Santa Cruz Wash, which is intended to carry water out of the area.

“Sorrento has agreed to become part of the North Santa Cruz Wash, which means they will be treated like other landowners,” city attorney Denis Fitzgibbons said. “They’ve agreed to donate their property for free to become the North Santa Cruz Wash channel. We don’t have to go through any type of condemnation process. But it also gives Sorrento the opportunity to go forward if they decide to go forward before the entire channel is built.”

The agreement, which was originally signed in 2009, clarifies the city will not be the floodplain administrator for the PAD. The agreement was originally signed in 2009.

Sorrento is in east Maricopa off Hartman Road and Bowlin.

Joshua Babb, who lives in Sorrento and is running for a council seat, asked the council to wait on its decision on the amendment. Instead of leaving it to developers and Pinal County, he said it was the opportunity for the city to take the lead in flood control and act an administrator now “instead of later towards consolidating the city’s floodplain issues under the city and really taking a look at that local control.

“This is the perfect opportunity to start and gain that control,” he said. “Make a good decision based off the future of the city.”

Fitzgibbons said though Sorrento would like the city to be the floodplain administrator, it is not yet possible.

“Unfortunately at this time the City of Maricopa does not have that expertise,” he said. “Pinal County serves that role.”

He called the Sorrento property an important piece in completing the North Santa Cruz Wash. The final piece, he said, belongs to the University of Arizona.

Councilmember Nancy Smith said the agreement will help pull some land out of the flood zone.

“If we can solve floodplain problems locally, in pieces as well, coordinating with the types of alliances we have, we’re going to be in better shape because that involves quicker resolution in different areas of Maricopa,” she said.

Mayor Christian Price said the agreement is the best solution for everybody.

“We’re working many different channels and many different avenues to indeed protect the local control while simultaneously look[ing] out for the very best interests of the residents while simultaneously protecting those homeowners in those areas and fixing the problems that we are simply behind in, in Pinal County, and have been for a very long time,” he said.

Also at Tuesday’s regular meeting, some Employee Excellence awards were presented, Joanne Ortega was honored, and MPD Chief Steve Stahl and MFD Chief Brady Leffler received cards of appreciation for the first responders signed by city council, staff and residents. See video below.

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City floodplain manager Josh Plumb (standing) talks to the Heritage District Citizens Committee about the floodplain. Photo by Ethan McSweeney

By Ethan McSweeney

Maricopa’s Heritage District doesn’t have too many options when it comes to addressing floodplain issues without a region-wide effort, according to a presentation to the district’s citizen advisory committee last week.

Josh Plumb, floodplain manager for the city of Maricopa, gave the Heritage District Citizen Advisory Committee an overview of the floodplain situation for the area and what would need to be done to find a solution to the issue.

Maricopa’s Heritage District has a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year, also called a 100-year flood, as a result of being a low-lying area from the Santa Rosa Wash and the Vekol Wash. This means that the area has been designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as a floodplain.

As a result of this status, if any redevelopment to a property within the Heritage District equals or is greater than 50 percent of the value of that property, then the property would need to be brought up to floodplain standards. It also requires that any homeowner in the area purchase flood insurance.

“The challenge to the area is that it limits what can be done in terms of redevelopment,” Plumb told the committee at its monthly meeting.

One couple who purchased a home in the Heritage District recently learned they would have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to bring their home up to floodplain standards.

Brian Foose, chairman of the Heritage District Citizen Advisory Committee, didn’t agree with the decision by FEMA to designate the area a floodplain.

“Unfortunately, the people in Washington who are looking through their satellites and their satellite imagery say that’s a lower area, that’s a floodplain,” Foose said.

Don Pearce, a member of the advisory committee and a long-time Maricopa resident, also didn’t believe that the floodplain status accurately reflects the situation, citing past experiences with flooding in the Maricopa area.

“This is ridiculous this floodplain,” he said. “I can’t see where they get this from.”

Plumb said any possible solution to the larger issue of limits to development in the floodplain would need to be addressed at a regional level with Pinal County, Pima County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Santa Cruz River, from which the Santa Rosa and Vekol washes are tributaries, flows from Mexico through Santa Cruz and Pima counties north to Pinal County.

Some options that could help the Heritage District include a drainage project or a flood-retention area that would divert potential flooding.

“Obviously, funding is a major issue in terms of trying to do a regional solution for this,” Plumb said.

Nancy Jones stands at her unique 1957 home in the Heritage District. She and her husband were “devastated” by the demands of a floodplain permit to improve the house. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa wants to revitalize the Heritage District.

The Heritage District is in a floodplain.

The impasse that creates for homeowners wishing to improve property can be frustrating and expensive.

A solution will be a long time coming.

Bill and Nancy Jones live in Senita but found a 1950s house on Condrey Avenue with “tons of potential.” They discovered it on the real estate website Trulia. A victim of foreclosure, the house had been empty five years.

Of course, empty is a relative term. Clearly animals and humans had made use of it. The entire quarter-acre property was full of trash.

As Washington snowbirds, the Joneses are do-it-yourselfers who saw the many challenges the home presented. But they did not even know about the biggest challenge.

What they knew about the property was that it was mid-century modern and had been in foreclosure.

“The bank foreclosed, sent the owners the paperwork, but they never followed through, so it went to a tax sale,” Nancy Jones said. “The people we bought it from bought it on taxes, and then we bought it off of them. So there were no disclosures. They didn’t know anything about the property, and we didn’t know anything about it.

The Joneses knew they had an expensive challenge in restoring the home on Condrey Avenue but were unprepared for the floodplain permitting process. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
The Joneses knew they had an expensive challenge in restoring the home on Condrey Avenue but were unprepared for the floodplain permitting process. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“If we had, we never would have bought it.”

Bill Jones said they hauled off 12 tons of trash from the house, the front yard and the back yard. The kitchen and bathrooms had already been stripped out. The Joneses took down all the sheetrock and plaster.

“It looks ugly, but there is nothing wrong with what we’ve got for a base,” Nancy said. “We’re working with an architect who has fabulous ideas for us. Until we get the floodplain permit, we can’t do anything.”

That has put the brakes on all of their plans.

In working with city planners on issues like setback waivers and variances, the floodplain issue came up. The Joneses were in contact with the Pinal County Flood Control District, which delivered the devastating news.

Engineer Chris Wannamaker told the Joneses the 1957 home on property that had not been surveyed since 1956 was built 26 years before the first floodplain map went in to effect. It is in a floodplain now, requiring a floodplain permit before any construction can be done, and that work must follow the “substantial improvement rules.”

“These rules state that if the cost of the improvements (including materials and labor) are more than 50 percent of the current value of the structure then the entire structure needs to be brought into compliance with the current floodplain regulations,” Wannamaker said. “In the case of this home, it would very likely mean elevating the entire structure.”

Half of the value of the Condrey house is about $16,000, a fraction of what their construction improvements will be.

“That’s the roof,” Nancy said. “We can’t get homeowners insurance because of the roof.”

They were able to get commercial insurance, which Bill said is $500-$600 per year.

“We’re out now about $55,000, and it just keeps adding and adding and adding,” Nancy said.

“I’d like to see the city of Maricopa get off their tushes and get that flood-retention area built that they need.” –Nancy Jones

That’s well beyond the full value of the home, so the work automatically requires the floodplain permit. That means before they can do anything else to the house, the Joneses must do one of two things.

“The only thing we can do right now is get a company to come in, burrow underneath the slab, lift it up two feet, backfill it with gravel, and then put the house back down,” Nancy said. “Or tear the whole thing down. At a minimum that would cost $15,000 to $20,000. Then we have to start from scratch.

“It’s a solid-built place. It’s disgusting to think that to do anything, we have to destroy it.”

For Maricopa, the option to help everyone in the Heritage District floodplain is to construct a flood-retention area or drainage project.

Joshua Plumb, a floodplain manager at City Hall, said a study to do a design for drainage is more than five years away. Then any plan must get approval from Pinal County at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. His best guess is six to seven years at the earliest before Maricopa has a project.

“Nobody’s taking a serious stand,” Bill Jones said.

“I’d like to see the city of Maricopa get off their tushes and get that flood-retention area built that they need,” Nancy Jones said. “Until the city gets their act together, anybody that wants to do anything in this area can’t.”

It is even a complicated situation for the city, which has property in the Heritage District it plans to develop. Plumb said an outside option is the opportunity for a development company to create its own drainage plan that meets FEMA requirements for much of the area.

“We’re always looking for development,” he said.

Nancy Jones said city planners were “wonderful” and very supportive of what the couple wanted to do with the house. The Heritage District Advisory Committee, too, heard their plight with compassion.

“We are sympathetic to what you have to go through,” said Brian Foose, committee chairman. “The whole 347 corridor is constrained because of the floodplain.”

“My heart goes out to you people,” committee member Renate Chamberlin said.

“My heart goes out to the neighbors,” Nancy Jones replied. “We want to get going on it.”

She called the situation “devastating.”

Plumb said the city tries to inform the public about the demands of being in a floodplain. It is considered one of Maricopa’s top three issues. While a city solution for the Heritage District is a long-range goal, potential homeowners wanting to improve the oldest section of town are forewarned.

“You have to know what you’re coming into,” Plumb said.


This story appeared in the April issue of InMaricopa.