Flood Prone Properties

Vassar’s Flood Hazard— Since 1900, Vassar has flooded at least 28 times.  Flood stage is set on the staff gauge on the Cass River at 14.0 feet.  The past floods have ranged in height from several just over 14 feet to 4 or 5 above 20 feet.  The worst being in March 1904 at 24.9 feet and the Big One most of us remember, September 1986 at 25.0 feet.  That was 11 feet over flood stage and flooded vast areas of residents and the business district to depths above most 1st floor windows.  Flood conditions for the both the river and the drain usually presents itself with some warning.  The Moore Drain serves land to the northwest of Vassar, providing drainage for several hundred acres of land.  The flooding from the drain can be associated with smaller storms that might be expected to occur once every few years.  The major flooding is from the Cass River and it produces the major flood stages discussed above.  The river drains 710 square miles of land to the north of Vassar.  By careful watch of conditions in upstream communities, we can estimate the extent of expecting flooding in Vassar and its estimated time of arrival, usually a day or two in advance.  Work on the drain and river plus other flood mitigation measures are proposed to occur in the near future.  These projects will lessen the impact of flooding on the City.

The National Flood Insurance Program—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  Through this program, most of the Nation’s developed floodplain areas have been mapped.  The City of Vassar’s floodplains were first mapped in June of 1989.  The maps have been updated quite recently in 2013.  Copies of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (map showing the floodplain within the city limits) are located in City Hall.  If you would like to see where your property is located in relation to the floodplain, stop by City Hall and staff will assist you in determining its location. 

Anyone owning property within the City of Vassar may purchase Flood Insurance on their structures and contents, regardless of whether or not it is located within the 100-year floodplain.  Anyone shown to be within the 100-year floodplain MUST carry Flood Insurance on their property if there is a mortgage from a lending institution that is backed by the Federal government, such as FSLIC, FDIC, FHA or Fannie Mae, to name a few.  Since your property is located within the 100-year floodplain (or very near to it) you should be carrying Flood Insurance.  If you have a mortgage as described above, you must have flood insurance.  Keep in mind that your standard home or business owners’ insurance policy does not cover damages due to flooding.  However, by getting a flood insurance policy, it will help pay for repairs after a flood and, in some cases, it will help pay the cost of elevating a substantially damaged home. This coverage is available only through the National Flood Insurance Program and is sold through your regular insurance agent under a contract with FEMA.  Contact your local insurance agent to obtain coverage on your property.  If you are a renter, you should carry Flood Insurance on your contents.  The landlord should be carrying Flood Insurance on the building itself.  It is very important to remember that once you purchase Flood Insurance, there is a 30-day wait until it takes effect.  That is to prevent waiting until a flood is imminent and then rushing down to the insurance agent and buy a policy to protect against a flood that is likely to occur the next day.  Don’t put it off if you intent to protect your property with Flood Insurance.  Floods have occurred in Vassar in 6 of the 12 months, including all four seasons.

Elevation Certificates—Recently, the City has begun completing and maintaining Elevation Certificates for all new or substantially improved construction.  Copies of these certificates are also maintained in City Hall, should you need to view the one for your property.  If no Elevation Certificate has been completed, we can discuss how best to schedule our floodplain consultant to complete one for you.  It will not only tell you exactly where you property is in relation to the flood elevation, but it will detail the elevation of the various floor levels of your structure and other building components relative to the floodplain.  Finally, the elevation certificate will enable your insurance agent to correctly rate your home should you decide to purchase flood insurance. 

Substantial Improvement/Damage—Building owners often will improve their properties through various forms of remodeling projects.  Should such a project exceed 50% of the building’s value, it is considered to be substantially improved.  As such, the improved building must meet all current codes and ordinances, including the requirements of the NFIP.  For residential properties this requirement would stipulate the improved house be elevated to at least a foot above the 100-year floodplain.   Commercial properties can be floodproofed by either elevation or other techniques up to a foot above the 100-year flood level.  Substantial damage requirements come into play should a building be damaged to more than 50% of its original value, by any cause; fire, flood, tornado, etc.  Should that occur, reconstruction must meet all current codes and ordinances, as discussed above in substantial improvement. 

Permit Requirements—Before any development or alteration of a floodplain can occur of either the Cass River or the Moore Drain floodplains, a floodplain permit must be obtained from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources  (DNR) under the provisions of Part 31 of the Natural Resource and Environmental Protection Act.  Copies of this application form can be obtained from the DNR’s website at www.michigan.gov/jointpermit or by telephoning the Bay City Office of the DNR at 989-686-8025.  Building permits are also required for any construction.  They are available from the Tuscola County Building Department in Caro.  Keep in mind that any request from the DNR for a floodplain permit for residential construction in the floodway will likely be denied, as stipulated in the statute.  If you see any floodplain development or alteration that you believe to be illegal, notify City Hall at the number at the end of this mailer or call the DNR at the telephone number above.

Flood Safety and What You Can Do—First, as you may have seen, some homeowners have elevated their homes above the 100-year floodplain.  This procedure, although expensive and disruptive, now gives these residents a great deal of piece of mind when flooding is likely.  Grants may be available from FEMA to help pay for this type of flood protection.  Contact City Hall if you are interested in elevating your home or business, to see if you would qualify for one of these grants.

There are many other approaches to reducing your exposure to flood damage.  While they may not reduce your Flood Insurance premium, they will reduce flood damage.  These approaches include dry floodproofing (keeping water our of building by making its walls impermeable to water), wet floodproofing (changing the interior finishes to be resistant to flood damage and moving utilities and belongings to a higher portion of the building above the flood level), temporary barriers such as flood gates or water-filled bladders that take the place of sandbags and are reusable, and permanent berms or floodwalls surrounding your building.  If you are interested in any of these approaches, contact City Hall.  The City’s DPW Coordinator will arrange to meet with you to discuss available and effective options.

  • Should you be flooded or suffer water damage there are several precautions that should be taken before re-occupying a building.  These would include turning off the power, natural gas, structural instability, safe and effective treatment of mold and mildew, cleaning and drying of motors and appliances, to name a few.  All of these precautions and actions are very well described in an easily understood format in a joint FEMA/American Red Cross publication “Repairing Your Flooded Home”.   It is publication FEMA 234 or the ARC 4477 and is available through the American Red Cross or through the FEMA website at www.fema.gov or from their publications depot at FEMA Publications, P. O. Box 70274, Washington, D.C.  20024. 

Flood Warning System—Sirens placed in strategic locations in Vassar are sounded when a flood warning as determined by the National Weather Service and City personnel monitoring the drain and river levels deem it necessary to warn the residents of Vassar.  This warning means flooding is imminent and very likely to occur.  People within the floodplains of either the Cass River or the Moore Drain should move to higher ground out of the floodplain.  The public service channel on cable TV will also broadcast emergency messages relating to flooding.  Tune into that channel for up to date emergency messages.    If the city or county’s emergency services personnel issue an evacuation order, follow their instructions. 

Other flood warning tips to remember are:

  • Never enter a flooded basement unless the electrical power has been turned off at the fuse box.  If the power has not been turned off and any electrical boxes or outlets have been covered by water, the floodwater will be “energized” presenting a serious risk of electrocution.
  • Never drive through standing water or across flooded streets or bridges.  Sometimes floodwaters may destroy the road, bridge or erode the culverts to point where there is no longer a surface to drive on.  Often this cannot be seen because of the floodwater.  Less than a foot of flowing water will move a vehicle off the road and into the floodwaters.  More deaths from flooding occur in cars than anyplace else.
  • Stay away from downed power lines.  Do even get close to them.  Report downed lines to the City police, fire department or to the utility company.
  • Don’t try and start electrical motors that have been exposed to floodwaters until they have been cleaned and dried by a qualified technician.

Be Kind to Storm Sewers and Drains—While the County Drain Commissioner is responsible for the overall maintenance and integrity of the Moore Drain (and any other county drains within the City), each resident can help to ensure the drains and the storm sewers operate as they were designed.  Do not discard trash, lawn clippings or any other material into either the drains or the storm sewers.  Doing so will decrease the systems’ capacities and make them unable to operate as they were meant to.  This may cause flooding because of debris blocking culverts or pipes, backing water up to higher levels than anticipated.  Additionally, any foreign debris or material in the systems eventually finds its way to the Cass River, degrading the water quality and making it less desirable to aquatic animals as well as humans.  If you see a problem with any of the county drains, report them to the County Drain Commissioner’s office in Caro, at 989-672-3820.

Natural and Beneficial Functions—The floodplain areas of the Cass River and the Moore drain, where not occupied by development, provide a significant resource to our community.  They contain numerous wetlands as well as hold and store floodwaters during heavy rainfall and snowmelt events.  The wetlands, in addition to providing flood storage, also harbor and provide homes and breeding grounds to many species of animals.  The floodplain and wetlands also help to improve and maintain high water quality in our streams by filtering runoff following rainstorms.  As the runoff moves across the floodplains and through the wetlands, pollutants are filtered out of the water before it reaches the river or the drain.  Our Rails to Trails pathway along the Cass River, passing through wetland areas, is another example of how the floodplains have been used for recreational benefits.  Protect these areas wherever and whenever possible.  We will all realize the benefits. 

Questions?  Contact the City’s DPW Director, Carl Miller, at: (989) 823-7231 or City Manager, Brian Chapman, at City Hall at: (989) 823-8517