NEW ULM - The New Ulm Chamber of Commerce hosted a live webinar on flood preparation Monday for local businesses. The format focused on federal and state officials delivering a presentation before fielding questions.
The federal representative was David Schein, Flood Insurance Liaison of FEMA-Chicago District 5 Office. The state representative was Ceil Strauss, State NFIP Coordinator for Minnesota DNR - Division of Waters, Floodplain Management.
Accompanying the officials were speakers from Austin, Minn., who shared their flood experiences: Austin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandy Forstner, Austin City Engineer Jon Erichson and Ankeny Dairy and Mini Mart owner Mike Ankeny.
Schein explained the details of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). He emphasized the accessibility of the program and the importance of obtaining flood insurance within a 30-day window of validity.
He also explained that what constitutes flood damage is any instance of damage caused by surface water from any source.
Strauss outlined state website resources for monitoring flood risk and river levels. She emphasized the need for property owners to develop an action plan to prepare for the different ways their area can flood.
Forstner said that Austin has experienced six 100-year-floods during the last 30 years. The experience taught residences that the most effective measure against similar disasters was flood mitigation plans.
Erichson explained the city's mitigation plan, which emphasizes preparedness.
The first is participating in NFIP. The second is an annual outreach program to all properties on the floodplain, notifying them of potential risks. Third, the city provided flood data for all new developments. Fourth, the city places deed restrictions on all public property that is flood susceptible. Fifth, the city provides digitized floodplain mapping for the entire city limits. Sixth, the city maintains elevation certificates on all new or substantially improved buildings. Seventh, the city provides up-to-date information on flood insurance rates. Eighth, the city maintains a emergency flood plan. Finally, the city has an annual hearing on flood mitigation measures.
Erichson said that the biggest challenge with flood prevention is "flood amnesia," which he said is the tendency for people to forget how a flood could impact them in non-flooding years. Austin's dedication to planning has allowed the city to purchase 300 residential and 10 business properties from flood-impacted areas, as well as eliminate public infrastructure from those areas.
Ankeny explained that he has dealt with eight flood events since starting his business. He said that he learned to always carry flood insurance and to understand what is the impact of each flood level on his property. Because he knows flood levels in detail, he is better able to know when to become concerned.
Schein answered questions from webinar participants.
The first question was "When does flooding start for insurance?"
Schein responded that it is when waster touches your building's foundation or gets into the building.
Another was whether the federal-backed insurance covers lost income for businesses.
Schein said that it does not, but that other entities do offer insurance specific to that issue.
After the meeting, the business owners had an informal discussion about flood preparation.
The general sentiment was frustration with the City of New Ulm's decision for a hands-off approach with protecting properties from the flood. Also, there was discussion about why local businesses have not yet organized on their own.
Schell's Brewery owner Ted Marti said that he would be willing to step into a leadership role in organizing residents if no group is formed in the near future.
New Ulm Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Weinkauf suggested that the first step for organizing businesses is to conference with Brown County officials. She said it was an important step so that businesses and residents organize as one big group, as opposed to several small ones that don't communicate with one another effectively.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)