A long road to recovery awaits the town of Webbers Falls, where the Arkansas River damaged all but six homes during near-record flooding in late May.
Some residents feel that road is an overly winding — and potentially too expensive — one. Discussions of raising homes to meet local building code have people like Marianne Walker worried they may have to move.
"It's just confusing," Walker said. "I'm not sure which permit I need and what I need the permit for. It makes a hopeless situation feel even more hopeless."
In response to reports of confusion, Shawn Smith, floodplain administrator for Webbers Falls, laid out the requirements for obtaining a floodplain permit for reconstruction and remodeling.
"If they’re in the 100-year flood plain and their property has 'substantial damage,' which is 50 percent or more, they're going to have to bring their building up to code to get a floodplain permit," Smith said. "There’s a lot of different laws and rules and regulations regarding how they’ll have to go about that. There are people who may have to raise their floors or do some demolition."
The first step, Smith said, was to begin the permit application process at Webbers Falls City Hall. Standard permits, for people without substantially damaged homes or those outside of the floodplain, remain available without further restrictions. All permits are currently free.
"From there, we determine whether or not they’ll need a floodplain permit," Smith said. "The floodplain permit is basically allowing them to do any type of new construction or remodeling in the 100-year floodplain."
Admittedly, Smith said, it provides a catch-22 — it appeared people needed to bring their buildings to code for floodplain permits, but needed floodplain permits for the necessary construction and remodeling for code adherence.
"I'm working with the mayor on figuring that out," Smith said.
Chief in the code is an elevation requirement: the floors of the house must sit at or above Webbers Falls' base flood elevation of 479.5 feet.
Initially there was a $500 survey cost looming over some properties, but Smith said he worked with another floodplain administrator to bring a survey company down who performed the remaining surveys for free.
The building codes involved are enforced by the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, which serves as the state coordinating agency for the National Flood Insurance Program.
"The NFIP is a federal initiative that provides communities with a mechanism for implementing sound floodplain management techniques. This effective quid pro quo approach to floodplain management makes affordable flood insurance available for citizens in participating communities that enact and adhere to sound regulations that guide development in floodplains," reads the OWRB's website. "In return, the NFIP requires the community to adopt a floodplain management ordinance containing certain minimum requirements intended to reduce future flood losses."
Adherence to NFIP regulations — and by extension, local building code — is required for flood insurance to be available through the program, said Federal Emergency Management Agency Media Relations Specialist Scott Sanders.
"You’re subject to those local ordinances, and that includes rebuilding after a flood," Sanders said. "FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) says if you want flood insurance, you have to abide by the code."
Sanders noted that FEMA assistance for monetary damages remained separate from NFIP concerns.
While the path ahead remains convoluted, Smith said, Webbers Falls will endure and rebuild.
"This is a tough one," Smith said. "But we’re a pretty strong community. We'll get through it."