MIDDLEPORT — Congressman Bill Johnson traveled to Meigs County last week for a meeting with community leaders to address last month’s fire in downtown Middleport, as well as obstacles to the village’s recovery.
The Ohio 6th Congressional District representative said he made the trip “to see the extent of the damage and discuss how my office could be of help.”
After a summary of the alleged arson May 16 and consequences, much of the discussion centered on floodplain insurance regulations and laws, and the complicating effects on rebuilding.
A swath of local leadership attended, including bank executives, Meigs government members and Jay Edwards, candidate for state representative of the 94th District.
Johnson spoke positively of his working relationship with the group, saying, “I have known most all of them at least five or six years now.” Middleport Mayor Sandy Iannarelli was also present in the meeting.
“I contacted Sandy as soon as I heard the news,” Johnson said, alluding to a call he made the morning after the blaze which destroyed Ingles Carpet and Flooring and damaged surrounding businesses.
The only new acquaintance for the congressman was York Ingles, owner of that establishment. Ingles faces a challenging path to restore his business through federal rules on floodplain insurance. Congressman Johnson has a stated opposition to the current legal situation, which he views as both federal overreach and bureaucratic ineffectiveness.
Speaking after the roundtable, attorney Steve Story summarized the issues for the Sentinel.
“Essentially, any repair or restoration that is 50 percent of the property value forces you to move the building out of the flood plain” or be faced with expensive and mandatory insurance rates. Given that almost the entirety of Middleport Village lies several feet within in the Army Corps of Engineers’ designated flood plain, “you have to put your building on stilts or most businesses cannot pay that cost.
“Economic development is my living. This is a big deal to the area, so it’s just tremendous that the congressman is listening, taking his time and working on this.”
Johnson co-sponsored House Resolution 2901, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously in April. The bill would allow private companies to offer flood insurance in zones marked by the federal government as special flood hazards.
Currently, floodplain insurance is only purchasable through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which ties rates to the appraised value of the insured building or the outstanding balance of a loan for that building.
These premiums can be prohibitive for businesses in small communities, such as Ingles taking on a large loan to rebuild. Johnson contends opening the market to private insurers “will bring competition, which means quality goes up and costs come down.”
“I will work these issues at the federal level” but “we are going to need help in the Senate,” referencing the need for that chamber to pass a similar measure.
Johnson said he shared interest and dialogue with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman on the issue. Given the state’s geography, which amounts to 451 miles bordering the Ohio River, 312 miles adjacent to the Great Lakes and preponderance of natural water features throughout region, floodplain insurance is a statewide issue.
“To fix the damage, if I could write a check I would, but that’s not in my power,” he said. “But I have come to let you know I’ll fight tooth and nail for what this area needs.”