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Missoula County to pursue grant for buyout of flood-damaged properties

Posted at 3:36 PM, Aug 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-29 17:36:20-04

Missoula County on Wednesday agreed to apply for a hazard mitigation grant to help fund the acquisition and removal of property damaged by the 2018 floods in a riverside neighborhood west of the city.

It’s also in the process of exploring a larger funding mechanism that could help the county acquire and remove more than a dozen flood-damaged properties in Orchard Homes.

The neighborhood is at risk of flooding in any given spring.

“There is a small pot of money that’s available through the hazard mitigation grant program,” said Adriane Beck, director of Disaster and Emergency Services with the county. “We feel we could leverage that to buy out one property. The application deadline is the end of the month.”

Beck couldn’t immediately say how much the buyout would cost. If the grant is approved, however, the county would provide a lesser match through its junk vehicle fund and in-kind services.

“It would allow us some unique opportunities with the junk vehicle fund, because the property in question has mobile homes on it,” said Beck. “There’s a lot of details that need to be worked out. We want to pursue this without the county having to expend any kind of hard cash.”

Earlier this year, as many as 13 property owners in Orchard Homes indicated their openness to selling to the county. However, that could cost several million dollars and sits well beyond the county’s reach.

But Beck said a larger mitigation grant was published this week and could provide the funding needed for a wider buyout.

“We’re in the very beginning stages of looking at what an application would need to entail to do that global buyout,” Beck said. “We’re hopeful we’ll compete in that arena. It would address the global buyout process here.”

The 2018 floods left Orchard Homes inundated by water for weeks. With a shifting river channel and an earlier snowmelt, it’s just a matter of time before it floods again.

Beck said between 16 and 20 properties could be considered as part of a global buyout if the grant came to fruition.

“The long game here is to really try to address the neighborhood issue, but there’s insufficient funds right now to do that,” she said, adding that the county would likely convert the properties to open space. “We’d need to make sure they cannot be built upon again.”

Rep. Willis Curdy introduced legislation last session allowing counties to use their junk vehicle tax to remove and dispose of dilapidated mobile homes. He encouraged commissioners to make use of the legislation as part of its grant application.

“We need a track record,” he said. “It’s a two-year bill, so we need to have a track record so we can go back to the Legislature in 2021 and push this forward again.”

-Martin Kidston reporting for the Missoula Current