MSD executive director Greg Heitzman at Monday's board meeting
MSD executive director Greg Heitzman at Monday’s board meeting

Several homeowners addressed the board of the Metropolitan Sewer District at its meeting on Monday, sharing horror stories of being displaced from their homes by recent flooding — only to have MSD prohibit them from repairing the damage and order them to demolish or completely rebuild their homes due to past damage that the agency did not disclose to them when they bought their houses.

Kyle and Jenn Meredith, who purchased a home in the Riviera neighborhood near River Road in 2011, were among those addressing MSD on Monday. After being displaced by recent flooding, their insurance kicked in and contractors were busy making repairs so they could return. However, Jenn recently received a call from MSD saying representatives from the agency were at her house and had issued a stop-work order for the contractors.

MSD told the couple that due to a decade-old local ordinance that was not disclosed to them, they would have to either demolish their house or rebuild and elevate it. A 2006 Metro Council ordinance gave MSD the authority as the flood plain manager designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to prohibit repairs on houses that have sustained total damages amounting to more than 50 percent of the home’s value over the course of 10 years.

But when the Merediths bought their home, they were not told that flood damages had already reached 40 percent of the house’s value and even a small amount of damages would prohibit further repairs. So despite buying expensive flood insurance, they are now prohibited from making repairs the insurance covers. Additionally, elevating the home is practically impossible, they say, as it is built on a concrete slab and connected to a septic system — which is not served by MSD.

Homeowners in the neighborhood estimate there are at least 40 households affected.

“As a homeowner, I am being penalized for past damages without my consent and knowledge,” Jenn Meredith told Insider Louisville. “I was preparing for battle with the insurance companies or the mortgage companies, but MSD just floored me. How do you have the authority to come in and tell me I can’t live in my house and fix my life’s investment, when you didn’t disclose this to me? … If you’re going to hold current homeowners and purchasers responsible for past damages, but not let them know that, that is malicious.”

The couple says the only option for them now — as they would not in good conscience try to sell it to anyone else — is for MSD to buy back their home and those of other residents in their neighborhood for a reasonable price.

However, MSD has given them little feedback or assurance that it will do so. Additionally, the agency says Mayor Greg Fischer’s office has said its hands are tied and it cannot do anything to help.

“We did everything we’re supposed to do to be a perfect homeowner,” said Kyle Meredith. “We’re more insured than most people in town because of where we live. We’re aware that it floods, that’s why we have insurance. We always make our mortgage. And here we are, the rug getting yanked out from under us … Everybody’s hands can’t be tied, there’s a way out for residents.”

Kyle Meredith and other homeowners — including several neighbors on their street — chastised the MSD board on Monday for not disclosing past damage, detailing the ordeal of being newly homeless and packed into the houses of friends and family. They practically begged MSD to buy out their homes.

In response, MSD offered little clarity, nor did it put them at ease that their situation would be resolved anytime soon.

MSD’s chief engineer, Steve Emly, said the agency is only following the Metro ordinance by preventing the repairing of homes in the flood plain, and that MSD does not have enough funding to buy out homes without help from local, state and federal governments.

“MSD inherited this problem and shouldn’t be the one holding the bag,” said Emly. “There need to be other players involved.”

MSD executive director Greg Heitzman acknowledged that his agency does not currently have a buyout plan in place but is in the process of making one “as soon as possible.”

“Waiting for a FEMA buyout program is going to be too little and take too long,” said Heitzman. “We need to come up with a local plan, partnering with Metro Louisville to establish a buyout program.”

Emly acknowledged that although MSD had the information internally, “the owners didn’t know that there was damage accumulated towards that 50 percent when they purchased the home, which is something valid we can follow up with.” Heitzman said the agency would work on making that information and disclosure available to the public in the long term.

As for a buyout program, Heitzman said MSD would present the issue to Metro Council on Tuesday, “to see if we can pursue alternatives to funding supported by MSD, as well as Metro Council, as well as the federal government and the state.” He added that the agency is “starting the process” of researching how other river cities have dealt with this issue — nearly 10 years after the local ordinance was enacted.

After the meeting, Kyle Meredith told IL they were dismayed by MSD’s lack of a coherent plan for disclosure or buying out homes they have prohibited from repair.

“We are so disappointed at the complete lack of any plan of action from MSD regarding our home,” said Meredith. “The fact that they were so unprepared for this after working with FEMA for nearly 20 years on the flood plain issues is astounding and does not instill confidence for an efficient resolution to our immediate problem. And while they are just now taking the first steps to remedy this for future homebuyers, our livelihood, and the livelihood of our neighbors, are still very much in jeopardy — with no clear resolution or direction from MSD. Due to their failure to explicitly disclose this ordinance to people buying homes in these areas, we are currently in talks with legal counsel to decide next steps in putting our lives back together.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]