Officials explain why flood plain not an option for jail site

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bourbon County officials continue the search for the location of a new jail.

On Tuesday, Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin asked commissioners to speak with David Luke, administrator and CEO of Kansas County Association Multiline Pool (KCAMP), which carries the county's insurance, about why the county should not build a jail in a flood plain.

Martin said he has received several calls about locating the jail in another location that is in the flood plain.

On Sept. 29, commissioners voted to back out of an agreement to purchase 13.7 acres along Jayhawk and Liberty Bells roads and continue searching for a site.

"There are some issues, the main issue being flooding," Martin said Tuesday. "You can build in a flood plain, but there are certain things you have to do -- criteria. And it will cost us more."

Bourbon County Geographic Information Coordinator Shane Walker said some of the suggested sites for the jail are in a flood plain and others are in flood flow areas, which are sure to flood during rains. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have a say on building within a flood plain.

"In order to build in a flood zone, you have to elevate above the flood zone, but the elevation materials have to come from the flood zone area. When you build something that heavy, bringing in wet clay dirt (for a base), it would never be as good as solid ground or rock," Walker said.

He said that was done with one local business that is now experiencing cracking floors.

Commission Chair Barbara Albright said she believes people think the flooding issue in Bourbon County has been eliminated because watersheds have been built. Martin said he's heard the same comments. They said that belief is not true.

"That's why we had flood mitigation for years, so we could build watersheds and people sell their property to move out," Walker said.

He said extensive mapping was conducted in the northern portion of the county and in recent years, the map that includes the Fort Scott Lake area was updated.

"The lake was one of the big problems," Walker said. "When the lake was first mapped, they didn't take into account we had two spillways."

Albright and First District Commissioner Lynne Oharah said the commissioners have recently received suggestions for multiple locations -- at least four -- all of which are located in flood plain or flood flow areas.

Besides people believing watersheds have eliminated any possibility of major flooding in the area, Martin said he also has heard the comment "it's just inmates" who would be inside the jail.

"The flip side of that is, it's also my employees," Martin said.

He said he also doesn't want to build the jail in a flood plain because he does not want to pass the additional cost on to the taxpayers.

During a conference call with commissioners, Luke said if the $6.8 million jail were constructed in a flood plain, the county would first have to purchase insurance through the National Flood Insurance Program. The maximum amount of coverage would be $500,000 on the building and $500,000 for the contents.

KCAMP would then provide additional coverage for up to $1 million on the building and $500,000 for the contents per occurrence.

"You would incur that additional cost, then your cost for flood coverage would be more than if you would not build in a flood plain, and then you're limited on the coverage," Luke said.

He said the bigger concern is with liability of knowingly locating a facility within a flood plain. He said he and a sheriff who sits on the KCAMP board discussed various scenarios that could take place if a jail were built in a flood plain.