WATERLOO | The federal government shutdown may delay a local development project.
Jim Ellis of Residential Housing Partners said he can't begin building five houses planned for Williston Field until the Federal Emergency Management Agency determines whether the lots are in a flood plain.
Ellis told City Council members Monday he wants to include basements in the 1 1/2- and two-story homes planned for the site. But basements are not allowed unless the site is out of the flood plain.
FEMA is reviewing a request to remove Williston Field from the flood insurance maps. But the agency has been shut down since Oct. 1 when Congress reached an impasse on spending bills.
Williston Field, a former school property at West Seventh Street and Williston Avenue, is in a large area on the city's near-west side included in a new 100-year flood plain adopted in 2011.
The flood plain, which generally follows the underground storm sewer carrying Dry Run Creek from Liberty Park to the Cedar River, means banks require homeowners to purchase flood insurance as a condition of their mortgages.
Council members in 2011 authorized up to $49,000 for AECOM, a Waterloo engineering firm, to conduct a hydraulic study in hopes of convincing FEMA that the Dry Run Creek area should be removed from the flood plain.
An initial study was submitted to FEMA, which responded with questions. AECOM answered the questions and then the federal government came screeching to a halt.
Mayor Buck Clark said he doesn't expect a quick answer even if FEMA employees get back to work soon.
"We're apt to be months away from hearing back from FEMA," said Clark, who was concerned the development agreement the council approved with Ellis could expire.
But Community Planning and Development Director Noel Anderson said he believed the city would get an answer on the flood plain issue by spring, assuming FEMA reopens soon. And Ellis indicated he had completed the other steps necessary to begin selling homes there.
"I think we're still in good shape with the development agreement," Anderson said.