By JAMES TWOMEY
Ontario Floodplain Zoning Administrator
A new map of Ontario reflects an attempt to allow for more flexible zoning, repairs, and the retention of older buildings in our downtown area. This map was a result of the Ontario Village Board’s commitment to downtown redevelopment by using grant money to hire an engineering firm to establish a new type of area within our floodplain.
Every other community in the Kickapoo River Valley has a floodplain map that distinguishes between the “floodway” (where no homes, no new businesses and only small types of repairs are allowed) and a “flood fringe,” which gives citizens, property owners, and local government many more options, such as keeping a building in place by filling the basement with sand or elevating the house a few inches to allow it to be lived in and stay on the property tax rolls. Sadly, Ontario is the only village that never had this second option! This situation has been in effect for many decades and has resulted in a great disadvantage for Ontario when competing with Kendall, Viola, La Farge, Readstown, or Gays Mills for housing and business development. And, this situation created extremely high flood insurance rates for individuals and the village.
The new map outlines a “flood fringe” for Ontario. It was submitted to DNR for approval, but it seems to have been lost in the confusion that the pandemic and employee turnover created in 2020 and 2021.
The Ontario Village Board recently has been informed that new maps are being prepared by FEMA and the DNR for areas within the Kickapoo and Brush Creek rivers. The FEMA maps are the legally binding ones that state and local government must use for permits and insurance rates. Please contact your local, state, and federal representatives if you agree that Ontario needs to have a flood fringe. The deadline for public input is Jan. 17. Politicians are people, too. So, use please and thank you when writing to them!
This effort changes nothing about the previous floods and buyouts. However, it will give Ontario a fighting chance to save many downtown residences and businesses in the future. It will also allow for construction in the flood fringe by giving us a baseline elevation above which people can live and work!