CTUIR plans to purchase some flood-damaged homes

By the CUJ

MISSION – Hazard mitigation has been of the utmost importance in the area since February’s Umatilla River Flood.
“The river’s changing course and moving as it wants to, and (a flood) is going to happen again,” Planning Program Manager Patty Perry told the Board of Trustees (BOT) for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) in November.
Perry told the Board that climate change is a factor in the flooding.
Two resolutions were passed by the Board of Trustees Nov. 16 regarding the aftermath of the flood.
The BOT decided that several fee properties, including houses and buildings severely damaged or destroyed in the flood zone, will be purchased by the CTUIR. The Board directed Interim Executive Director Chuck Sams to execute all required forms and documents for the financial assistance for the project.
“The CTUIR’s Natural Resources Department has adopted a River Vision that sets goals and objectives to one day see the Umatilla River closer to its original geomorphology,” said Sams. “To that end, we are looking to purchase homes that were once just in the flood plain, but are now in the flood way.  The houses we propose to purchase will be removed and environmental mitigations will take place to return the area to a more natural state.”
The amount of federal aid awarded was $2.4 million, according to Perry. A match of 25 percent, totaling more than $600,000, was allocated from the CTUIR Contingency Fund.
With the purchase, the lands will return to their natural state.
“The sole purpose is to mitigate flood risk to these private property owners,” Perry said. “It benefits everyone concerned, so it’s like a win-win situation … One of the goals and mitigation measures identified in that plan is removing the residences that are repeatedly flooded.”
Perry said the process is complex because the Umatilla Indian Reservation is in the National Flood Insurance Program that allows residences in flood plains to obtain flood insurance. And flood insurance is only available through a federal program for communities that are in this national flood insurance program.
To be in the flood insurance program, Perry said, “you have to have land-use jurisdiction and you have to adopt regulations for any development that occurs in that designated flood plain area.”
The BOT adopted a Flood Hazard Overlay Zone in 2010 and a Hazard Mitigation Plan in 2016. The February flood, federal disaster declaration, and the Tribes’ approved Hazard Mitigation Plan makes the CTUIR eligible to apply for funding to mitigate future flood risks, Perry said.
“… One of the things that the Board has expressed concern over is all these homes that were flooded,” she said. “I was authorized to move forward with letters of intent (to purchase the homes).”
After the flood, several home owners contacted CTUIR staff about selling their land, Perry said.
“They were saying, ‘We don’t know what to do with our place now. We don’t want to stay here and get flooded again,’” she said. “So they asked if the Tribe was interested in purchasing their property. When I got word of that, I went ahead and put in a letter of intent to OEM (Oregon Emergency Management) for this funding to purchase these properties.”
OEM acts as a middle-man for Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) mitigation funds, Perry said.
“The allocation provides some soft money to move forward with ordering the appraisals and all of the other evaluations necessary for property purchases to occur,” she said. “And, also, part of this mitigation is to remove those structures.”
Perry noted a team of internal Department of Natural Resources staff are working on the grant acquisition projects, including Cultural Resources, Wildlife, Fisheries, and Water Resources, as well as Finance, Office of Legal Counsel, and Planning.