The Beacon News

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April 9, 2009

Beulah council seeks answers

By Ken Beauchamp


There is a great amount of uncertainty regarding what clean up actions are necessary and required by Beulah homeowners damaged by the flood of 2009. No lesser degree of uncertainty is attached to what if any governmental assistance might be forthcoming from state and federal agencies. While that fog may clear in coming days, it may take weeks and months before some of the answers are delivered.

In the meantime the city will be meeting with members of the state’s congressional delegation, developing a policy for clean up inspections and working on getting a disaster declaration that will provide help to homeowners whose damages range from minor to severe structural problems. Mayor Darrell Bjerke said that the city has also been in contact with local District 33 legislators who have promised their assistance.

If you had flood damage what is the best thing to do right now? Do what you have to do is the advice from the city. That means cleaning and sanitizing your home, replacing furnaces and water heaters, electrical inspections and whatever is needed to make your home livable, with the exception of homes with serious structural damage such as caved in basement walls or shifted walls.

Bjerke stressed that homeowners take photographs of damage and keep accurate records of their costs involved in case there is governmental assistance in the future. Bjerke added that citizens take that action and contact City Hall before undertaking any repairs of serious damage in order to be clear on what is or isn’t allowable in those situations which come under city building codes and ordinances.

In some cases of serious basement damage it may not be possible to do repairs. It will require major basement reconstruction, in effect raising the basement floor to 1-foot above the 100-year flood level, or eliminating a basement with only what is termed a "crawl space" under the main floor, which needs to meet that same standard. In that event, a building permit from the city will be required and new construction to building code. It is a complex matter, again the best advice, call city hall at 873-4637.

At this point, the city government has agreed that all clean up will be followed by voluntary inspections by property owners, and the city will not engage in any mandatory dictates. That came Monday night when Keith Johnson of Custer Health met with the city to ask what help his agency could offer and what policy the city had for progressing with inspections for re-occupancy of homes. The standard at this point seems agreeable – one of what is termed "due diligence," basically taking the precautions necessary to make homes safely inhabitable on a voluntary basis.

According to Councilman Steve Perry there is no state law that requires mandatory inspections and the council was in agreement that any mandatory or adversarial actions are not a good idea at this time. The city did encourage everyone to have electrical and plumbing inspections by state certified persons before moving home and to seek advice on how to properly sanitize as well.

Volunteers are on hand to help with that sanitizing effort along with information on how to do it properly to avoid deadly black mold in the future. The city is also going to make available moisture testing tools for use on drywall and other areas other than concrete.

The fact that Beulah doesn’t have a written flood policy is not unusual in North Dakota, a land of frequent flooding. The city noted at Monday night’s City Council meeting that only several cities in the state have such a policy and recent e-mail traffic between cities has concerned cities seeking guidelines from one another.

Beulah hopes to have such a policy by the next council meeting in two weeks. Perry was instructed to work with Custer Health and others in developing something on paper to address issues that have arisen, as well as a guide for future developments.

The city is presently working on submitting the paperwork for disaster declaration and all three members of the congressional delegation will visit the city in upcoming days and weeks. The present level of disaster assistance from the federal government addresses the matter of flood emergency not recovery. Flood affected cities in the state are hoping for a declaration that will address recovery and individual property losses. That help, if it comes, could provide from 75-90 percent relief for those with documented damages.

Kip Hammargren, a resident of the south side of Beulah where the flooding occurred, addressed the council about some of his concerns. Those concerns involved whether voluntary inspections would be adequate to make homes safe, as well as structurally sound, the latter a matter which could affect other property values in the area.

He said that after the last flood in 1997, there were badly damaged basement walls and they were simply repaired, not brought into the required compliance. He also noted that he hoped that what he termed "self-awareness" of what was needed would be adequate, so that no situations arise where neighbors are compelled to file complaints to get problems corrected, thereby pitting neighbors against one another.

Kevin Herrmann, another south side resident, addressed the council on the issue of what he termed "sightseers" who he said caused problems before, during and after the flood. He said he understood people’s desire to see what was going on but noted it hampered efforts. He suggested people use better common sense and avoid the area unless they are a resident or a volunteer helping. He also praised the city for its efforts before, during and after the flood.

Again. Voluntary clean up by professionals or meeting professional standards. Voluntary mechanical and building inspections. Keep records. Contact City Hall with any questions regarding matters you are unsure of.

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