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Barberton working to fix flooding problems

FEMA buying houses in flood zone
Posted at 5:21 PM, Aug 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-12 18:12:19-04

BARBERTON, Ohio — 70-year-old Joyce Coburn has lived on 14th Street NW in Barberton for 30 years and has been forced to deal with bad flooding multiple times.

In 2013, Coburn spoke with News 5 after surging water invaded her house.

"We lost our furnace and our hot water heater and our air conditioner and our electrical panel," she said eight years ago.

For Coburn, who became a Barberton City Councilwoman in 2016, the severity of the flooding isn't easy to forget.

"The 2013 flood, we had 2 1/2 feet of water outside here. You would have been standing waist-deep in water," she said in an interview outside of her home on Thursday.

Bad flooding has been a reoccurring and scary problem, especially along 14th and 15th streets—an area Mayor William Judge calls "a natural flood zone."

Over the years, residents have been rescued by rafts and pickup trucks after unrelenting bouts of heavy rain.

Addressing the flooding concern has become a top concern for Barberton leaders.

The city received nearly $2 million in federal funding to buy and demolish homes on the two streets.

Judge said seven of the fourteen homeowners on 14th Street, who received offers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have agreed to sell their homes.

One house has been torn down and each one that falls will be transformed into green space, which is expected to help mitigate flooding.

"Removing rooftops and asphalt kind of helps percolate the water into the ground where they once stood," Judge said.

"They aren't allowed to put catch basins. They aren't allowed to put parks. Nothing on FEMA property will be work," Coburn added.

However, Coburn rejected an offer she received from FEMA last year for her home because she felt low-balled. For now, she's planning to stay in the neighborhood.

"The county appraised the value of my house at $69,000 and FEMA offered me $24,000," Coburn said. "I thought it was totally ridiculous."

Judge said the process of buying and razing homes on 14th Street could be finished by the end of 2022. The 15th Street potential buyouts are in an earlier phase.

Judge said another helpful fix to the flooding problem has been expanding a nearby retention pond at a park.

"We expanded that to hold more water and it has been helping tremendously throughout the storms that we've had in the past year or so," Judge said.

The mayor said he's also looking into the possibility of adding more retention ponds and storm sewers in various parts of the city.