STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Money for flood recovery used for design of public facility

It's hard to imagine that eight years ago downtown Nashville was underwater.Two days of record-breaking rain o...

Posted: May 6, 2018 10:53 AM
Updated: May 6, 2018 10:53 AM

It's hard to imagine that eight years ago downtown Nashville was underwater.

Two days of record-breaking rain on May 1 and May 2, 2010, left 10 people in the Nashville area dead.

Shivering men, women and children were rescued from their flooded homes; some were stranded on rooftops.

Buildings floated down the interstate. An estimated 11,000 properties were destroyed or damaged.

The federal government sent tens of millions of dollars in aid; money earmarked for flood victims like Belinda Gentry.

News4 first met Gentry in 2010.

"This is where the boat hit the front door," Gentry pointed to a mark about three feet high on her front door jamb.

She still lives in the same house in the River Glen subdivision near Opryland in Pennington Bend.

"The water was actually about here," Gentry said as she held her hand just below the kitchen counter top.

The McEwen's live in the same neighborhood.

Carol McEwen showed News4 the aerial photo of her inundated neighborhood, which was featured on the front page of the newspaper.

"And this is our house," she picked out her house in the photo, as it sat surrounded by murky water.

"Awful. Muddy. Nasty. Turtles, varmints everywhere," she said.

They had a ringside seat as the Cumberland River unleashed its destruction.

The SWAT team was in her neighborhood, evacuating people.

"And about that time, this wall of water came rushing down," McEwen said. She saw the deluge engulf her neighbor's house up to its window sills.

FEMA sent emergency flood recovery money.

Gentry got some of it, but she dug deep into her own pockets and liquidated her retirement funds to cover what FEMA did not.

"Tens of thousands of dollars," Gentry said.

What did the McEwens get from the government?

"Nothing. Nothing," Carol McEwen told the News4 I Team.

What happened to all that flood money from the federal government?

Nashville got $10 million from HUD's Disaster Recovery Fund to start and received another $22 million in a second appropriation from HUD in 2011.

Our News4 I-Team investigation discovered that one-third of that $22 million - $7.4 million - never went to flooded homeowners.

It was used to design Ascend Amphitheater, a downtown concert venue.

"Where is it, why wasn't it used what it was appropriated for?" Gentry asked News4.

Three years after the flood, Nashville told the federal government they wanted to redirect the $7.4 million towards riverfront development; essentially saying they couldn't find any other homeowners who needed help.

"No applications for assistance have been submitted in recent months," the city told HUD, referring to money earmarked for repair and rehabilitation of owner-occupied homes.

"Initial demand for this program was high, and approximately 400 households have been assisted," Metro wrote to HUD.

"Upon completion of cases in progress, this activity will be closed," Metro officials wrote.

The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency told News4 that they originally allocated 68 percent of the $22 million to housing. MDHA partnered with The Housing Fund to administer the Rehab program.

"The amount programmed for Rehab was based on being able to reimburse homeowners for using their own funds for repairs," said Angela Hubbard, the Director of Community Development for MDHA.

"However, HUD said this was not allowed, we could not reimburse people for their out of pocket expenses nor could we provide assistance if they had received insurance proceeds, FEMA or SBA assistance that covered the damage assessment," Hubbard said.

MDHA said people were invited to submit public comments before the money was redirected for another purpose, but no one did.

"Who did they contact? How did they notify people about that? How?" Gentry asked News4.

"We never knew about that," said Carol McEwen. "If I had heard that, I certainly would have said, 'Hey, we could use some help!'"

Phil Claiborne was a councilman at the time. He represented the River Glen subdivision.

"I'm surprised. Yeah, I am, I really am," Claiborne said.

News4 showed him what the city cut in order to move $7.4 million to the Ascend project.

$700,000 from neighborhood cleanup

$1,000,000 from homeowner rehab

$1,200,000 from rebuilding assistance

$2,200,000 from down payment assistance

"There are categories in here where this money could have possibly been used. I'm surprised," Claiborne said.

Metro Council did approve redirecting the flood money to the amphitheater project during a council meeting on July 16, 2013; though they may not have been aware of it, since the project was listed as "civic open space with improvements" in the document the council approved, "Action Plan for Disaster Recovery, Amendment Three, and Utilizing Supplemental CDBG Disaster Recovery Funding."

The word "amphitheater" was never mentioned in the document, nor was it mentioned in an analysis prepared for Council members.

"It's not in there at all," said Councilman Steve Glover. He told News4 he voted for it, not realizing the money would go towards the amphitheater.

"It makes me angry," Glover said.

Rich Riebeling was the city's finance director at the time; he's now Metro's Chief Operating Officer. The News4 I-Team asked him who decided to use the money for the amphitheater.

"I don't recall it," Riebeling said.

"I think it was a group decision. I'm not the architect of anything. I work as a collaborative process with a lot of people to make things happen," he said.

He told News4 investigative reporter Nancy Amons he'd research it and get back to her.

"It didn't help us. I don't even know where the amphitheater is. I don't go," Carol McEwen told the I Team.

"Disgusted. Just disgusted," Gentry said.

According to MDHA, the $7.4 million covered design, engineering, and management fees costs for the amphitheater.

A total of $5.7 million was paid to three firms for design and engineering work. Another $1.6 million was paid as project management fees to Commonwealth Development, a company owned by Larry Atema.

Atema's company was the subject of several News4 I-Team reports in March. The I-Team found that Commonwealth was paid management fees to oversee preliminary design work for a proposed professional soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds. Atema is a friend of Riebeling.

Documents discovered by the I-Team showed that Riebeling had taken money from a Bridgestone Arena fund to pay Commonwealth Development, without asking or telling the Sports Authority. Riebeling apologized. Atema announced to the Sports Authority his firm would no longer oversee work for the MLS stadium and that his company would not seek to renew its contract with Metro when it expired in less than a year.

Commonwealth Development earned a total of $2 million in management fees for overseeing the amphitheater project, according to city documents; Commonwealth was paid $1.6 million from the HUD flood money and $381,233 from other funds. The West Riverfront Park and Amphitheater project cost approximately $53 million, according to a 2016 Metro document. The majority of the funds, $46.3 million, came from other sources, including the Metro Parks and Public Works budgets.

MDHA told News4 there is still money available for victims of the 2010 flood.

"If there is a homeowner that meets the eligibility requirements and can clearly document that the rehab needed is related to the 2010 flood, they can get assistance," Hubbard said.

t received any applications in years.

When we realized that there would be additional funds, The Housing Fund developed two additional programs to assist flood victims and use the grant funds.

Down payment assistance for individuals displaced by the flood

Purchase and repair of properties with flood damage – available for owner-occupancy, resale or rent

People did not use either of these programs, so we developed the program with Habitat where they could purchase and renovate home in the flood plain. But there wasn't enough activity in that to use all of the original budgeted funds.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 28770

Reported Deaths: 1092
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds224739
DeSoto144216
Madison124234
Jones109149
Neshoba97070
Lauderdale89479
Rankin86012
Forrest82942
Harrison79410
Scott75715
Copiah58016
Leake56519
Jackson55716
Holmes53641
Wayne52212
Lee51816
Oktibbeha51625
Washington5129
Yazoo4786
Leflore47449
Warren46317
Lowndes45912
Lincoln43734
Lamar4317
Grenada3965
Pike39312
Monroe37529
Lafayette3684
Attala35523
Newton3329
Sunflower3216
Covington3175
Bolivar29813
Panola2956
Adams28018
Simpson2713
Chickasaw26418
Tate2648
Marion26311
Pontotoc2616
Jasper2516
Noxubee2478
Pearl River24532
Clay24410
Winston2446
Claiborne23910
Marshall2123
Smith21111
Clarke20424
Coahoma1906
Union1819
Walthall1794
Kemper17614
Yalobusha1667
Lawrence1621
Carroll16111
Humphreys1309
Itawamba1308
Tippah12711
Webster12610
Calhoun1244
Montgomery1242
Hancock12313
Tallahatchie1153
Jefferson Davis1074
Prentiss1003
Greene968
Jefferson963
Wilkinson929
Tunica903
Amite842
George753
Tishomingo731
Choctaw724
Quitman690
Perry634
Alcorn601
Stone541
Franklin392
Benton270
Sharkey270
Issaquena81
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 39604

Reported Deaths: 961
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson4532143
Montgomery3875102
Mobile3797134
Tuscaloosa210739
Marshall162210
Lee124537
Shelby110923
Madison11047
Morgan10203
Walker87123
Franklin86314
Dallas8419
Elmore83614
Baldwin7359
Etowah64413
DeKalb6415
Butler60727
Chambers60027
Tallapoosa57269
Autauga55312
Unassigned50724
Russell5030
Lowndes45820
Lauderdale4576
Houston4464
Limestone4290
Cullman4114
Pike4075
Colbert3775
Bullock3649
Coffee3592
Barbour3331
Covington3327
St. Clair3192
Marengo29911
Hale29621
Escambia2936
Wilcox2848
Talladega2827
Calhoun2805
Sumter27912
Clarke2686
Dale2620
Jackson2522
Winston2373
Blount2181
Pickens2176
Chilton2152
Marion20613
Monroe2052
Choctaw19212
Randolph1889
Conecuh1866
Greene1788
Macon1778
Bibb1761
Perry1541
Henry1303
Crenshaw1243
Washington1027
Lawrence1000
Cherokee797
Lamar711
Geneva700
Fayette671
Clay612
Coosa571
Cleburne301
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 92° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 73°
Columbus
Overcast
72° wxIcon
Hi: 93° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 72°
Oxford
Scattered Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 70°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather