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Landgraff Property Acquisition - Effective Mitigation Prevents Flood Damage
McDowell County, WV - On June 20, 2010, several inches of heavy rain fell on the steep mountain slopes that surround the Elkhorn Creek Watershed, causing severe landslides and flooding in McDowell County, West Virginia. One area that didn’t receive property damage, lessening the damage downstream, was Shawnee Bottom in the unincorporated town of Landgraff. Located in an area straddling Route 52 that was once a coal camp in the Pocahontas coalfield, the town has seen its share of severe flooding and has over 10 acres of land located in the floodplain.
The June 2010 deluge caused about a foot of water to settle on Route 52 when the Elkhorn Creek overflowed its banks. On July 8, 2001, and May 2, 2002, severe flooding along the Elkhorn Creek destroyed much of the town, which consisted of many older coal company homes and some pre-manufactured homes. The homes that survived the 2001 flood were destroyed or swept away during the 2002 event.
Structural floodplain management measures, such as filling the floodplain and dredging or widening stream channels, have been attempted in hopes of lessening the effects of flooding, but have had the opposite effect. Filling in a floodplain is restrictive and sends more water downstream. Efforts to widen and dredge a stream channel can bring immediate results but, in the long term, a waterway’s natural behavior is to redeposit and refill a streambed. Maintaining a dredged stream is very costly and destroys aquatic habitat. Therefore, as a result of the 2001 and 2002 floods, a focus on floodplain management rather than flood control was proposed.
The FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) acquisition project was initiated by the State of West Virginia and FEMA. The acquisition projects funded by the HMGP were voluntary and homeowners were under no obligation to sell their homes. McDowell County officials considered other options when looking for solutions but, after consulting with State officials, it was determined that the most effective mitigation measure in this location would be the acquisition of properties, relocation of residents, and removal of structures from the hazard area.
Property acquisitions presented owners with an opportunity to recoup part of their investment in their property that had lost some, if not most of its value due to the flood damage. All the properties in Landgraff except one in the floodplain were acquired. The land is deed-restricted and can only be used for open space. With property acquisition by the HMGP and building demolition by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers having taken place with little or no rebuilding as of June 2002, the floodplain area created a flood storage area large enough to be effective in reducing flood damage in downstream areas at risk.
The land located in and identified as a high-risk flood hazard area is approximately 11 acres and allows floodwaters to spread out and silt, rock, and sediment to be deposited. This project didn’t eliminate damage downstream, but it reduced it in addition to preventing property damage for the residents who had lived in the Landgraff floodplain prior to floods in 2009 and 2010.
The acquisition projects in Landgraff for the floods of 2001 and 2002 were begun in 2001 and completed in 2008. A total of 15 properties were acquired and two flood events that occurred after the buyout have resulted in long-term and ongoing savings. Officials said the former residents have relocated to safer areas, and they hope they never again have to suffer the economic and emotional losses resulting from their homes being damaged by flooding.
Geographical Area: Single County in a State
FEMA Region: FEMA Region III
County: McDowell County
Activity/Project Start Date
Activity/Project End Date
Key Activity/Project Information
Hazard Type: Flooding, Mudslide/Landslide
Activity/Project Type: Acquisition/Buyouts, Flood Control
Funding Source: Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)
Funding Recipient: Local Government
Activity/Project Economic Analysis
Activity/Project Cost Amount: $0
Activity/Project Disaster Information
Since mitigation effort began, has a disaster tested its value? Yes
Acquisition/Buyouts, Flood Control
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP)