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Flood victims tell of bureaucratic nightmare

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 by Mark Richardson

A Travis County couple whose home was heavily damaged by the Halloween Flood last November told County Commissioners Tuesday of a 10-month ordeal of bureaucratic intransigence, inflexible regulations and endless red tape in their quest to get a permit to repair their house.

Mike and Nancy Kimbro say they apparently checked the wrong box on a form needed to get a county permit to begin repairs on their home of 30 years at 8607 Springs Road 8607 Bluff Springs Road. But the process of correcting the mistake has spun so far out of control that Travis County has taken them to court over trying to make their house habitable. The Kimbros have countersued the county.

The Kimbros say they came to Commissioners Court after they were told by the Transportation and Natural Resources Department that it would reconsider issuing the denied permit if three county commissioners asked it to do so. After hearing the Kimbros’ story — supported by several neighbors — commissioners conferred with the county attorney in a closed session Tuesday, but declined to take any action on the matter in open court.

The Kimbros were insured for damages to their home that resulted from the flood on Oct. 31, 2013, saying they have received a settlement from their insurance company sufficient to repair the residence. Mike Kimbro said the problems began when they applied to Travis County for a permit to begin those repairs.

“I’m here today because I answered a question on the permit application incorrectly,” Mike Kimbro said. “On the permit application it asks if the proposed construction is a substantial improvement. I answered yes to this question. My wife and son had almost drowned.Our home was flooded, we lost most of our belongings. In my opinion, the event had been substantial, and it would be a substantial improvement to clean up and put my home back together.”

However, Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines only allow flood-damaged properties to be restored to their original condition, so the county denied Kimbro’s permit. He said that set off months of frustration trying to straighten out his paperwork mistake with county officials. All the while, the couple was stuck with a home – stripped of all its contents by a 52-inch wall of water – which could not be repaired because of months of bureaucratic intransigence.

“We are here today because I decided to repair our home,” Kimbro said. “I had waited approximately five months before I made this decision. I made this decision because I was frustrated. I was frustrated because TNR refused to issue a permit when I felt I had met FEMA’s guidance. I was frustrated because they would not give me a reason why.”

He said another problem in dealing with the county was that it assumed the insurance company would offer the couple the lowest possible settlement for their property, when in fact Kimbro discovered that the insurance adjuster who was sent to the residence was compensated with a percentage of his estimate of the damages. Kimbro said the adjuster bragged that he was going to take a vacation with the money he made from estimating the damages to the property.

By early May, Kimbro said, most of his neighbors had received permits and were repairing or had completed work on their homes. However, he was told at one point that he would have to raise his home by 9 feet or demolish it, though none of his neighbors had been required to raise their homes. He recounted several attempts to work with county officials to fix the paperwork problem, but was consistently told that the “decision to deny the permit stands.”

Kimbro said that in May, following information he received in a county packet for flood victims, he began some basic repairs to his home to make it safe to occupy on a limited basis. However, county officials served him with a “cease and desist” letter that ordered him to get a permit, which the county had already denied. About a month later, Kimbro received notice that the county had filed suit against him and his wife and planned to remove them from their property.

Nancy Kimbro told commissioners that their ordeal has taken an incredible toll on the couple.

“What Mike and I endured over the last 10 months is nothing less than one tragedy after another. We were victims of a natural disaster in which we had no time to prepare, we simply had to react. Once the danger was passed, the trauma began to set in,” she said.

“We had lost all of our belongings except for 12 plastic containers of clothes and miscellaneous items,” Kimbro continued. “We had nowhere to live. We had to begin the process of clean up. We had to figure out how we were going to put our lives back together,” she said.

Several neighbors and community leaders also spoke to commissioners on their behalf, telling of the hardship the couple has faced since the flood, including the death of their son (unrelated to the flood).

At the end of the Kimbros’ remarks, Judge Sam Biscoe made it clear that “the existence of the lawsuit and the countersuit complicate matters,” and limited what the commissioners could do. After conferring with their attorneys, the commissioners returned from an executive session later in the day and announced that they would take no action.

(This story has been updated to show the correct address of the Kimbros’ home as Bluff Springs Road.)

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