The Washington Times-Herald

February 28, 2014

Tornado recovery slows to a crawl

By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — The recovery from the tornado that hit Washington and western Daviess County last November appears to have slowed to a crawl. A flurry of activity for two or three weeks immediately after the storm has been replaced by condemnation notices and blue tarps.

“It feels disheartening that the progress seems to have stalled,” said Daviess County Emergency Management Agency Director Paul Goss. “I don’t know if it is because of the weather or insurance issues or if the economics of the area are getting in the way of getting things rebuilt. I’m worried that we may end up with a blighted neighborhood.”

The Sycamore Street corridor was the area hardest hit by the EF-2 tornado. Washington officials are concerned that it may produce some lingering impacts for the community. “There were some homes in the area that were not insured and some that appear to have been abandoned,” said Mayor Joe Wellman.

The city has already begun condemnation procedures on eight homes damaged in the storm. “Fortunately, no one is living in those,” said Wellman. “They are still a safety issue that the city has to deal with.”

When it comes to dealing with abandoned homes and property the safety issue may last for months or longer.

“There is a legal procedure we have to follow,” said Wellman. “It includes notifying the owner, advertising, public hearings and waiting periods.”

Each one of those steps can create more delays. “We have one home that was part of a foreclosure by an out of state bank,” explained Wellman. “Getting in touch with them and getting a response has been difficult.”

Not all of the condemned homes may be headed for the wrecking ball. “We have to get with the owners and see if they can be fixed or if they need to come down,” said Wellman. “Hopefully the owners will step up and fix them up. That would be the best of both worlds, but if they don’t it could fall upon the city to begin an adverse possession and tear them down.”

Demolition could prove to be a pricey option. “Obviously, that would be taxpayer money,” said Wellman. “We have an unsafe building fund. That’s where the money to bring them down would come from.”

One thing that may help with the recovery is the recent U.S. Small Business Administration disaster declaration for the area. S.B.A. representatives were in Washington two weeks ago and took 17 applications for low interest loans to help with the rebuilding process. S.B.A. officials said many of those seeking help were finding that their insurance was not covering all of the costs for replacing the damaged property. That declaration came three months after the storm and after Federal Emergency Management Agency officials twice declined to provide grants to rebuild the area. “I think that decision has had an impact,” said Goss. “If that declaration had gone through the recovery would have been much faster.”

The lingering problems are a concern for the community. “I feel uncomfortable when I go down into the neighborhood and see homes that still have blue tarps on the roof and boards over the windows,” said Goss.

For the city the fix up or tear down options are in motion.

“Our goal is to move it a fast as we can,” said Wellman. “I want it to go faster, but we have a process we have to work through and we just have to go through it.”

That process will take months. Months to fix damage left behind by a storm that only lasted for a matter of minutes.