FEMA flood assistance still uncertain for McHenry, Lake counties

By Gregory Harutunian for Chronicle Media

Entire neighborhoods were inundated with flood waters in July. Standing water in some areas have made damage assessment figures difficult to obtain. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

Property owners, who suffered damage from recent floods may have to wait awhile for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The indications so far are that such funding is in doubt, due to estimated liability assessments not meeting an $18.3 million threshold for public entities in the designated four-county disaster zones. Further hampering progress on assessments is that many sites are still inundated with water.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency contacted several state-sanctioned agencies Aug. 7 regarding federal assistance for flood damage, consisting of grants and loans to county and municipalities.

The update has filtered to several impacted communities such as Fox Lake, although the Lake County Emergency Management Agency did not comment on the issue, when contacted.

“The estimates that have been provided so far are only preliminary, and not reflective of the entire damage scope” said Jenny Vana, the county’s communications manager. “Accurate data could take up to two months to compile. The figures are not complete.”

At issue are the Cook, Lake, Kane, and McHenry counties meeting an $18.3 million figure that would trigger county and municipal reimbursements for outlays and damages, stemming from record flood levels.

The amount is also a gateway to federal assistance for individual homeowners, a separate program based on the single county population figures and a per-capita impact indicator.

“We were told that, as of Aug. 7, there is only $12 million assessed in damages encompassing the four counties,” said Fox Waterway Agency Executive Director Joe Keller. “We’d like to paint a rosy picture but that was the information. They have more detailed data coming, but it was said that the figure won’t change appreciably. Federal assistance came after the 2013 flood, which was a record at that time, but it was viewed as a brush-off from the Hurricane Katrina event.

“This 2017 event is isolated to the Chain O’ Lakes, Fox and Des Plaines rivers, and surrounding communities. The $18.3 million is a figure for public entities to meet for their costs involved with the flood,” he said. “Lake County sustained nearly one-third of the overall damage. In our case, it was bog damage and debris removal from the waterways. There was also damage to manmade islands that were constructed of dredged silt and encircled by geo-tubes. If disbursements are made, the waterway agency has to supply 25 percent. IEMA knocked off a lot of the damage totals because public entities are being paid by insurance companies.”

While the deductible payments for the premiums can be counted toward the threshold amount, payout figures by the various insurance companies to public entities cannot be included. It was cited that Lake Forest Hospital incurred approximately $6.3 million in damages from water inundation and a forced closure that will be covered by insurance. Other examples include two public schools and numerous municipally owned properties that will have damages paid by insurance companies.

The 2013 flood affected the Chain O’ Lakes, Des Plaines River, and Fox River systems with rainfall and damage that was dubbed the “100-year flood.” The 2017 flood event began with unprecedented July 11-12 rainfalls. Mundelein reportedly received five inches in seven hours. State water level gauges along the Fox River produced record crests, with the Fox Lake gauge showing 8.03 feet above flood stage. In 2013, the mark was 7.91 inches.

“As of now, we are issuing building and demolition permits to individual homeowners and waiving the fees,” said Fox Lake Community Development Director Donavan Dey. “The program will continue until Sept. 1, but if there are extenuating circumstances, we will be happy to work with anyone. We have already mapped out those impacted areas within the village, and we want to help our residents in any way we can.”

IEMA has said the $18.3 million figure is only for assistance to local governmental bodies for public entity response costs such as debris removal, rescue operations, road closures, damage to public properties, and manning detour routes.

“Whether it’s four counties, or all 102 counties, the Federal Emergency Assistance Agency is looking for an extraordinary thing, complying with certain definitions for counties to be eligible, and it doesn’t include individual house damage,” said IEMA Public Information Officer Pat Thompson. “The $18.3 million figure is a state threshold. There are 12.8 million people in Illinois, and it’s multiplied by $1.43, an impact indicator applied on a per-capita basis.

“I’m aware of the phone call that was made to the agencies, but not the full content. Assistance for individuals is something we’re working with the counties to gain full damage assessment data, and the water is still up, which hurts local officials to get a complete damage canvass. The local emergency management agencies will help us with an opportunity for federal assistance,” she said.

Thompson stated there was “no idea about receiving federal disaster assistance for individuals in the disaster declaration areas.”

In the separate program, she said FEMA will be looking for homes that were damaged or destroyed. However, specific thresholds for the impacted counties must also be met through a state-calculated $3.61 local impact indicator, based on per-capita populations.

She added that individual assistance must be reconciled with totals, incorporating county populations multiplied by the impact indicator amount. Those figures, by county are: Cook ($18.77 million, population of 5.2 million); Kane ($1.86 million, population of 515,269); Lake ($2.54 million, population of 703, 462); and McHenry ($1.11 million, population of 308,760).

Yet the prospect of homeowner assistance is also tempered by FEMA actions in 2013. Field workers surveyed and took applications from individuals that listed their damage and personal possession losses.

Grants were issued to renters for relocation and receipted damage to their belongings. Homeowners received mailed determinations stating they must purchase flood insurance through a federally approved designate, then could apply for a Small Business Administration loan at a 4.75 percent interest rate.

“Yes, I heard about it, when we were making our assessments for the village … not very happy,” said Donavan. “I’m aware of the threshold information. Fox Lake was hit hard in 2013, and more so now. We consider this a crisis period for our impacted residents, and we want to provide all the help we can.”