Homes reaching new heights to avoid flooding

Lycoming County officials are looking at more options to minimizing flood damage than buyouts and demolition — by elevating homes, the county hopes to preserve communities and their integrity, said Josh Schnitzlein, hazard mitigation planner for the county.

The commissioners are expected to vote today to award an engineering contract to RK Webster, of Montoursville, to elevate a total of eight to 12 homes in the northern end of Muncy Borough and the Heshbon Park area of Loyalsock Township over the winter. The county has about $1 million to work with thanks to Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funds, which can only be used to elevate homes, Schnitzlein said.

Webster offered its services for about $14,000 per elevation and estimated total cost of construction at about $80,000 per home. The reason for the expense is, due to Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, the county must not only elevate homes but also make sure they are up to code — any lead-based paints or other code violations must be corrected, Schnitzlein said.

“Yes, it’s expensive,” he said. “But there really are many benefits. It’s about preserving a community and its integrity and its tax base.”

If all goes according to schedule, the county will go out to bid for construction services in early spring and construction should be complete by the end of 2018.

The named communities are based on areas most affected by Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, but individual homes have not yet been chosen. The planning department will decide on the homes to be elevated with this round of funds based on income qualifications, specific locations within their communities, property evaluation and more, Schnitzlein said.

Though Schnitzlein hopes the county will be able to get more funding for future projects like this, he said the flood buyouts also will continue for properties that are constantly facing flood damages, claims and insurance rate increases. He said it’s better to turn those homes into open space less affected by flood waters, like parks or boat launches.

“We’re going to continue to do buyouts,” he said. “It makes sense to get those homes out of there.”

This is the first time the county will spend public funds on such an initiative, Schnitzlein said, but these won’t be the first elevated homes in the county. Webster has teamed with other companies to help elevate numerous homes, including at least 50 in Lycoming County, said Randy Webster, president of the company.

Webster said each home is unique, from its size and shape to the topography of the land it sits on, so there are different ways to make sure newly elevated homes meet Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications.

“You never know what you’re getting into, every house is different,” he said.

The individuals and families whose homes will be elevated will receive financial assistance for living arrangements during the construction process, Schnitzlein said. He said, if projects like these can receive funding in the future, the county may start to costshare those expenses in order to save money for more elevations. But, for now, the county wants to build a rapport with communities.

“I wanted to pay (their housing expenses) 100 percent,” Schnitzlein said. “We’ll get some successful elevations done and show the community what that looks like first, and maybe costshare in the future.”