Fort Smith officials: Permits necessary in rebuilding flood damaged properties

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,996 views 

Flooded homes in Fort Smith. (photo courtesy of Austin Collins)

Waters have receded following the historic flooding of the Arkansas River at the end of May, and cleanup is in high gear. While home and business owners work to clean out the mud and water left behind and start the process of removing what is damaged, the Fort Smith Building Safety Office is reminding residents of when permits are needed.

Liz Collins with the office said a permit is not needed for removing damaged or destroyed carpet, flooring or drywall.

“Anything that is demoed out because of the damages does not require a permit,” Collins said. “After things are dried out and you start to rebuild, then there are things you need to do.”

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken said Tuesday (June 18) the city is considering reducing permit fees for those rebuilding because of flood damage. Flood damage repair work of $16,000 at a home in Rivercrest Circle was permitted June 6 with permit fees of $58.50.

The first step is to get a building inspector to come the property for an inspection.

“If you call between 8-9 a.m. or 1-2 p.m., we can get an inspector out that morning or afternoon. Otherwise it will be later in the day or so,” she said. “The inspector will look at everything to make sure it’s OK to continue.”

A local building permit is needed before repair or rebuilding of flood-damaged structures can begin. In order for that permit to be obtained, there must be an itemized list of all structural and finish materials as well as labor cost for a complete cost analysis, Collins said.

“If an insurance adjuster has been there and made an estimate of the cost of everything, you or your contractor can use that for the permit,” she said.

If labor and materials have been donated, they still must have an assigned value, a media release from the City of Fort Smith said. Also, if local building codes require the structure to be repaired according to certain standards, these additional costs must be included in the full repair cost for the structure.

The cost to repair must be calculated for full repair to “pre-damaged” condition, even if the owner elects to do less, the media release said.

The building permits are especially important because permits are required for local government participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, which provides residents and property owners eligibility for flood insurance, flood disaster assistance, state and federal grants and loans, and buyout funds for local flood-prone properties, the media release said.

“Local floodplain management ordinances require permits for any construction or development in a floodplain area, including the repair or reconstruction of structures damaged by flooding,” the release said.

There are special conditions for substantially-damaged buildings, ones in which the total cost of repairs is 50% or more of the structures’ pre-flood market value, the media release said.

“If a building is found to be substantially-damaged, regulations require that repairs not begin until compliance with the floodplain ordinance is demonstrated. In some cases, it may be required that property owners have work done to elevate the structure to reduce the risk of potential future flood damage,” it said.

There may be state and federal assistance available to be used to reduce the chances of future flood damage.

Local homebuilders have not received a lot of requests yet for help in the rebuilding process, said Stephanie Stipins, executive director of the Greater Fort Smith Association of Home Builders.

“It looks like there are a lot of companies from outside the city who typically follow storms who are here who have experience building with this sort of thing,” Stipins said.

But local homebuilders are helping with the efforts around the city nonetheless. Stipins said in a meeting of the association Wednesday (June 12), several talked about cleanup efforts in which they were involved.

“A lot are helping with the cleanup and removing mud. We have formed committees. We are working on that right now. We really just can’t say if we’ll be doing (the rebuilding and remodeling). That hasn’t even come up yet,” Stipins said.

Tim Mays, president of the homebuilders association board and owner of Tim Mays Homebuilder Inc., said he does not have the labor skilled in demolition. His crew is trained to build.

“My guys are putting up lumber. And that’s not who those folks (with flood damage) need,” Mays said.

Mays said say he is glad to see other companies come in with the skills to help rebuild, but is concerned about that group including scammers.

“It follows this type of disaster. It’s inevitable that some of that is going to happen. … We are concerned about it as an association, but we don’t have any governing rights to stop it. We’re hopeful the city has things in place to catch that.”