• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Assessing floodwater damage to homes in Woodford County, Mitigating future losses

As the Kentucky River rose and floodwaters began affecting residents

here after torrential rains in Eastern Kentucky last month, Woodford

County Emergency Management Director Drew Chandler and his team began

their rapid assessments of damage to residential structures.

Often, Chandler’s team members remain in their vehicles during

“dashboard assessments” to determine if floodwater is still in a

residence or if there’s a waterline in the residence, he said.

Along the Kentucky River, about 126 residential structures located in a

special flood hazard area could have potentially been impacted by the

March flood, according to Kenneth Johns, the county’s Geographic

Information System coordinator. Woodford County’s river communities

include Buck Run, Clifton and Shoreacres, Chandler said.

He said sixty-two residential structures were impacted by the March

flood. Of those, Pattie Wilson, the county’s certified floodplain

manager, said 20 sustained major damage.

A more detailed assessment is conducted to confirm there was damage to a

residence if that was uncertain during the initial assessment, Chandler


The information was given to Woodford County building inspector Josh

Stevens. He then determined if the damage was major or minor, or

destroyed the structure, Wilson said.

Stevens said he’s provided information about grants available to

homeowners who may need assistance based on the level of damage to the

residence. He’s also talked to some people and returned to further

assess the damage to their homes, he said.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot of structural damage,” Stevens said during

an interview last week. “But I have seen a whole lot of (damage to)

drywall,” which will need to be replaced. More will be known after a

contractor assesses what needs to be repaired, he added.

Stevens said homeowners with substantial damage (equal to or exceeding

50 percent of the structure’s value) need to mitigate future losses.

Because every flood event is different, the number of homes impacted

varies, Chandler said. Significantly more homes in Woodford County were

impacted by the 2010 flood because the Kentucky River crested at a

higher level – two to three feet higher – than the most recent event, he


Chandler agreed that mitigation actions undertaken by a homeowner can

lessen the damage to their residences in future flooding events.

“The whole idea is to get people out of harm’s way,” Wilson explained.

“You can either get them above (the base flood elevation) or move them

out …”

In 2015, Woodford County government secured grant dollars to buy six

residential structures in the special flood hazard area, Chandler said.

“We ended up only buying two of the six,” he continued. “Either because

these residents had unrealistic expectations of what fare market value

was or, in one case, the family said, ‘We just can’t imagine living

anywhere else.’ So they declined.

“But the two structures that we did buy, there’s nobody there to be

flooded any more.”

Overall, Chandler described Woodford County residents who live along the

Kentucky River as “pretty resilient.” They know how to get out of harm’s

way and do whatever it takes so it’s less costly for them to stay or get

back in their homes after a flood, Wilson said.

Chandler said he knows of only three families who actually left their

homes and didn’t return until floodwaters receded.

“As I was knocking on doors,” added Stevens, “there was already fans

going and people mopping things up. You kind of get the vibe that

they’ve been there for awhile. So they kind of get the gist of what it

was like to clean up after” a flood.

Because Woodford County participates in the National Flood Insurance

Program, residents are eligible to receive up to $30,000 in Increased

Cost of Compliance Coverage (ICC) to bring a structure up to compliance,

Wilson said. ICC coverage pays for demolishing, relocating and elevating

residential structures.

Several residential structures in Woodford County have been elevated in

the past. A new foundation is constructed to raise a home high enough so

it’s out of harm’s way when flooding occurs.

“When you elevate a house,” said Wilson, “you also elevate the HVAC

unit.” She said a hot water heater and electrical systems are also

elevated “above the established base flood elevation.”

People can further mitigate the chances of flooding (and reduce flood

insurance costs) by building a home at a higher elevation than the base

flood elevation established by FEMA, Wilson said. “So they may still

have to carry flood insurance, but the higher you are above the base

flood elevation, the lower your insurance is going to be,” she explained.

“To make Woodford County more safe,” she said, “we actually add a

one-foot surcharge to that base flood elevation.”

Some residential structures are not candidates to be elevated, according

to Chandler. “Sometimes,” added Stevens, “it is cheaper to demolish than

(it is) to rebuild.

In 2017, floodplain maps in Woodford County were updated, according to

Wilson. However, she noted that no updates to those maps had occurred

from 1978 until a major update in 2012.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters hitting New Orleans

in 2005, a huge amount of federal dollars were allocated to re-evaluate

flood zones across the country and update mapping, Wilson said. This new

study information from the Army Corps of Engineers about the Kentucky

River in 2012 and 2017 included updated maps for flood-prone areas in

Woodford County, she said.

The level of damage to a structure is dependent in part on whether water

got into a living space – and not a crawlspace, Chandler said. However,

if a subsequent homeowner puts flooring and drywall in what they

perceive as an “unfinished basement,” the cleanup involves much more

than “mucking out the mud,” he said.

Chandler said the age and type of structure also plays a role in the

amount of damage.

For example, mobile homes built prior to 1976, “if it gets wet, it’s

destroyed. It’s not that extreme, but mobile homes pre-’76 don’t fare

well (after being flooded),” Chandler said.

As Woodford County’s certified floodplain manager, Wilson is responsible

for determining if a property is located in a special flood hazard area

when someone wants to build a home near the Kentucky River, a stream or

a creek.

Anyone wanting to build in a special flood hazard area has to go through

a very detailed review process, Wilson explained. Construction isn’t

allowed in the flood way, but permits are issued allowing someone to

build in “the fringe” of a special flood hazard area, she said.

Wilson said she oversees development, including demolition, new

construction as well as underground pipe and grading work in special

flood hazard areas. Those areas encompass 5 percent or 6,200 acres in

Woodford County, according to the updated 2018 Comprehensive Plan.

That’s because of the Kentucky River’s many tributaries – creeks and


Lees Branch flows through Midway and puts a large portion of the city in

a special flood hazard area, Wilson said.

In the aftermath of Woodford County’s March flood, when the Kentucky

River crested at 40.2 feet (ninth highest in recorded history), Chandler

said, “I’ve been trying to avoid the stream gauge …” He noted the river

crested at 48-and-a-half feet in 1978 – a historic high.

Because the Kentucky River flows north, torrential rain in Eastern

Kentucky begins to cause flooding here in about 36 hours or so, Chandler


Data from the March flood is sent to the state and then to the federal

government seeking a Presidential Emergency Declaration, which will

dictate whether any aid is allocated to impacted Woodford County

residents, Chandler explained. FEMA was already scheduled to be in

Eastern Kentucky this month because of the late-winter ice storm, which

preceded the flooding rains. “So their mission changed from ice storm

damage assessments to ice storm and flooding” assessments, said Chandler.

“The volume of our losses (in Woodford County),” he added, “it just

pales in comparison to the destruction (inflicted on) our neighbors to

the east.”

In an email, Wilson wrote, “I hope the story will encourage others to

reach out to us about mitigation!”

One of 77 certified floodplain managers in the state, Wilson has had the

certification since 2006, she said. She added this from the Association

of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM): “The ASFPM national certified

floodplain manager program was established in 1998 to create a baseline

testing of professional competence in floodplain management. The program

requires passing an exam and then continuing education credits annually

to maintain certification … the floodplain management program is

continually evolving and the knowledge and performance of local, state,

federal and private-sector floodplain management professionals is ever


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