On the quiet streets of Belt, you may not know it but there is a lot of work to be done.
"If you looked on the public works to-do list, there are probably 50 items that are listed,” said Mayor Jim Olson. "(There are) difficult decisions of 'What is that we are paying attention to and what gets put on a back burner?'"
As of December 5, the city was not in compliance with the Federal Flood Insurance Program (link) because flood regulations and ordinances the city developed to be part of the program were not being enforced. Olson said that's because the city doesn't have the resources to enforce them.
A news release from the Federal Emergency Management Agency states:
The city of Belt, Montana will be placed on probationary status by the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) on January 27, 2023, unless measures are taken to correct noncompliance with respect to the City’s floodplain management program.
Belt is an NFIP-participating community with 15 flood insurance policies in force with a total coverage of $2,753,200 as of November 1, 2022.
When a community joins the NFIP, it voluntarily adopts local floodplain management regulations to meet NFIP minimum floodplain management criteria. Placement on probation is a formal notice to the community that the local floodplain management program is not compliant with the criteria of the NFIP and is the first step in the process to suspend the community’s eligibility to participate in the NFIP.
Unless Belt completes a Corrective Action Plan (CAP) approved by FEMA, to address program deficiencies and potential violations, the probation period will begin on January 27, 2023, and be in effect for a minimum of one year.
As in many communities across the country, the cost and amount of work associated with government has gone up over the years but the resources required have not kept pace.
"We have been working with FEMA, we had an inspection. We've worked with them for, probably, the last six to nine months, corresponded with them several times,” Olson explained. "They came out and visited and I've also spent the last six months going through a FEMA training course coming up with an emergency response plan that will be FEMA-approved that should open up, possibly, some funding opportunities through FEMA."
Unless the city starts enforcing its regulations and ordinances, the city will be put on probation January 27, 2023.
"Once you're on probation, it's a year long,” said Tony Mayne, FEMA Region 8 spokesperson.
Flood insurance policy holders will have to pay an extra $50 for their policies if the city goes on probation.
"Once that year is up, the probation can be extended or, if they're back in compliance, it can be ended or the other case is they can be suspended from the program. Then, the flood insurance, the NFIP National Flood Insurance Program, would no longer be available to those policy holders,” said Mayne.
Aside from resources, Olson said outdated information is also a challenge.
"Part of what I believe is the whole problem is the maps are 100 years old and so the dikes that have been in place for 35, 40 years don't appear or aren't even considered in what is a flood plain,” said Olson.
As of December 5, the city was in the process of getting a FEMA-trained flood plain manager and Olson was optimistic that would happen "in short order."
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