Outstanding floodplain managers and exemplary programs were presented with IAFSM awards at the 2019 conference in East Peoria. The following awards were presented:
Mike Sutfin, CFM
Mike is the current chair of the floodplain management committee for IAFSM. As chair Mike has worked policy makers, building & zoning officials, and emergency managers to push for the formation of multiple flood alliances throughout the state of Illinois. The initial alliance, the Illinois Valley Flood Resiliency Alliance, encouraged all the communities within the Illinois River watershed to join together to share experiences and practices which will help to make the Illinois River Valley more resilient.
Mike was instrumental in the establishment of the Rapid Assessment Flood Team (RAFT), which provides assistance from IAFSM members to jurisdictions that have experienced a damaging flood and he has participated in multiple RAFT assistance visits. Mike also worked tirelessly to help the City of Ottawa, where he is the Building & Zoning Official, to achieve a CRS Class 2 designation. He has been active in the Illinois River Coordinating Council under the Lt. Governor and also sits on the federal CRS task force.
In recognition of his enthusiasm to go above and beyond to promote IAFSM goals and encourage others not only join IAFSM but to actively participate in the organization, the Outstanding Service Award was given to Mike Sutfin.
Rob Moore, Director of the Water & Climate Team at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) works on a range of issues related to the water-related impacts of our rapidly warming climate, including the rising risks of flooding and the effects of sea-level rise. Prior to joining NRDC in 2013, he spent nine years as executive director
of Environmental Advocates of New York. Before that, he served as executive director of the Prairie Rivers Network in Illinois and as the Lake Champlain Lakekeeper at the Conservation Law Foundation.
Rob has been a tireless advocate for common sense NFIP Reform, stronger floodplain regulations, and empowering state and local floodplain management efforts. His article “Seeking Higher Ground: How to Break the Cycle of Repeated Flooding with Smart Flood Insurance Reforms” covers the somewhat controversial topic of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and the possibility of using insurance recovery money for relocation as an option instead of rebuilding. Rob Moore was presented with the Journalism Award in recognition of his publications. To read the article, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/MooreArticle
Illinois State Representative Tom Bennett
For his efforts in creating and supporting a regional team for flood fighting, and for helping to make the state of Illinois more flood resilient, Representative Tom Bennett was this year’s Legislation Award winner.
Representative Bennett has a very large district that starts just a few miles east of Peoria and runs all the way to the Indiana border. The City of Watseka is in his district and has one of the worst reputations in the State for flooding. In February 2018, Watseka flooded once again. After the waters receded, Representative Bennett established the East Central Illinois Flood Alliance, an organization of communities throughout his district, to provide education on flooding issues and mitigation. He is very involved in the alliance, attending all the meetings and making numerous calls prior to the meetings to make sure people are attending. He has sought funding to buyout homes in Watseka, and is genuinely concerned with the suffering his constituents have faced.
Village of Downers Grove
The Village of Downers Grove received this year’s Stormwater Award in recognition of the Village’s forward thinking stormwater management practices to reduce flood risk for their residents. In 2018, Downers Grove Village Council took a significant step toward improving stormwater management by working on an ordinance that would implement new stormwater regulations, which are among the most restrictive in the region. Additionally, Downers Grove is one of the only communities in Illinois that maps areas of known poor drainage or localized flooding and regulates these areas in a manner that is similar to FEMA floodplains. The Village has also been working to complete drainage studies and watershed plans for these localized flooding areas to find viable capital improvement projects to reduce the likelihood of flooding in these areas. The Village was also one of the first communities in Illinois to approve a utility fee, which provides a stable source of funding for stormwater
Floodplain Manager of the Year
City of Ottawa
The Floodplain Manager of the Year Award was presented to the City of Ottawa in recognition of their status as a Class 2 CRS community. The Community Rating System (CRS) is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program and provides flood insurance premium discounts to residents living in the floodplain when their community is a participant. As a Class 2 community, Ottawa residents in the floodplain will see a 40% reduction in their insurance premiums. The City is the first community within FEMA Region 5 (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), to earn the Class 2 designation and one of only six in the entire Unites States to achieve Class 2 or higher. IAFSM was honored to have FEMA Region V Director James K. Joseph along with the Ottawa Mayor Bob Eschbach at the annual conference to acknowledge and celebrate this achievement.
Ottawa joined CRS in 2009 as a Class 5 but had a goal of improving that score and had the political will to put plans in place to achieve that goal. The City has worked with both FEMA and the State of Illinois on a buyout plan that was shown to save Ottawa nearly $10 million in losses. Flood damage avoided by the buyouts is already $9 for every $1 spent, and as an added bonus, the City has been able to repurpose the land into a fantastic new City park.
Ottawa also initiated the successful development of a flood threat and response plan. This plan describes every area that faces flooding and identifies responsibilities during flood events. Since the development of this plan, many other communities and alliances around the state and country have begun to replicate what the City of Ottawa did and have implemented similar plans in their own communities.
Jeff Denny, Alexander County
This year’s Mitigation Award winner is recognized for his accomplishments in managing the largest buyout in the State’s history. Jeff won the Floodplain Manager of the Year award in 2008 for getting Alexander County reinstated in the NFIP by correcting years of past violations. Just three years later, the County had one of the largest floods in a century, and a large number of people in his jurisdiction were thankful for his efforts, which had allowed them to get flood insurance.
More than 100 homes were substantially damaged in the flood and many homeowners requested a buy-out. Jeff managed the buyout project but faced numerous obstacles, most significantly that the State’s budget crisis shut down the project for two years. The project is now complete and 117 homes (plus 3 elevations) have been purchased for a total of $9 Million.
French Wetmore Award for Lifetime Achievement
Matt Wahl, CFM
Matt Wahl, retired from the Peoria County Planning and Zoning Department, was the recipient of the 2019 French Wetmore Award for Lifetime Achievement. This Award is IAFSM’s highest honor and it is not always given each year. It is reserved for outstanding longtime floodplain managers who have made a noticeable impact on floodplain
and stormwater management efforts in the State of Illinois. Although Matt spent his career in local government, he has benefitted all of us throughout Illinois by his contributions to IAFSM and particularly the development of the Illinois certified floodplain manager program and decades of attention to its implementation.
Matt was the motivating force in the early days of the Illinois floodplain management certification program and exam, which was developed simultaneously with the Associations of State Floodplain Managers (ASFPM)’s Certified Floodplain Managers (CFM) exam. At that time, it was felt that Illinois needed its own CFM exam tailored to recognize the higher floodplain and floodway standards required within the State of Illinois.
Matt got the IAFSM CFM testing committee organized to develop hundreds of questions for the test. If the committee couldn’t agree on a question of procedure, Matt made the call as he had the perspective of the local floodplain manager, which was the intended recipient of the test. His work to create and manage the Illinois Certified Floodplain Manager program resulted in over 500 CFMs the state.
Matt’s successful career at Peoria County started under Lou Sidell (pictured). He retired as Director of Planning and Zoning for Peoria County with more than three decades of progressive community development experience. He helped developed the County’s first building code program, and for that initiative Peoria County achieved a Community Rating System Class 5 rating. Matt was also instrumental in the development of the multi-jurisdictional Illinois River Flood Mitigation Program which included a floodplain acquisition program of hundreds of repetitive loss properties.
Throughout his career, Matt has been honored with multiple awards including the ASFPM Larry R. Johnston Award national floodplain manager of the year in 1997 and the IAFSM Outstanding Service Award in 2014 and 2017. Matt is very deserving of the French Wetmore Award for Lifetime Achievement. Our thanks to Matt for all of his years of service to IAFSM and his dedication to making us all better floodplain managers.