New Flood Maps Could Sink Home Construction In Parts Of Nelsonville

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New Athens County floodplain maps proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency could put a damper on commercial and residential development in Nelsonville if adopted.

On Thursday evening, new maps were rolled out for Athens County at the Athens Community Center. While the overall floodplain area in the county didn’t shift much, the floodway line moved significantly in Nelsonville. FEMA defines floodway as the “channel of a river or other watercourse and the adjacent land areas that must be reserved in order to discharge the base flood….”

FEMA prohibits new construction of residential dwellings inside the floodway.

According to Steve Pierson, director of code enforcement in Nelsonville, the current floodway stretches from the Hocking River to railroad beds, either active or abandoned, in Nelsonville. He said there are currently five residential structures and one commercial structure in the floodway.

Under the new proposed maps, the number of structures in Nelsonville’s floodway would grow to about 100 residential structures, 50 manufactured homes and several commercial buildings, including the city’s municipal complex, Rocky Brands’ offices and outlet store and the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) business incubator.

The residential structures that would be in the new floodway would include Victorian Village Apartments, Victorian Village Manufactured Home Park and Sheets Manufactured Home Park, according to Pierson.

The new floodway would also include Polly Field, which is used as recreation space. Pierson said that recreation space is a good use of floodway land, as it would be minimally impacted if there were to actually be a flood.

While the existing structures would be grandfathered if the new maps are accepted, no new residential homes could be built in this area. Commercial development could happen if the businesses are built to allow water to flow underneath the structures.

According to Pierson, floodplain maps are reconfigured every few years as better data about topography and water flow rates is gathered.

Pierson said the new floodplain maps won’t take effect for another 12 to 16 months. He said residents and business owners can dispute the new proposed maps for their property, but it would require the property owner to pay for their own engineering study — which is rarely done.

Although Nelsonville could see a significant expansion of the designated floodway, the floodway in the city of Athens may actually shrink.

“It’s good for Athens. Not so much for Nelsonville,” Pierson said.

Athens City Planner Paul Logue agreed.

According to Logue, the floodway was constricted on Columbus Road, but expanded on the Ohio University Golf Course, which he said isn’t a shock.

Logue said there are about 10 to 15 residential structures in the floodway in the city of Athens and that those homeowners are aware of that fact.

“It’s not really an issue in Athens,” he said. “Nelsonville has more significant issues.”