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

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Cases: 320292

Reported Deaths: 7390
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22299271
Hinds20782424
Harrison18455317
Rankin13933282
Jackson13740249
Madison10276225
Lee10068176
Jones8475167
Forrest7845153
Lauderdale7263242
Lowndes6524150
Lamar636688
Lafayette6315121
Washington5427138
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Panola4671110
Oktibbeha466398
Pearl River4610148
Marshall4576105
Warren4440121
Pontotoc426173
Monroe4163136
Union415977
Neshoba4066180
Lincoln4009113
Hancock387687
Leflore3516125
Tate342586
Sunflower339491
Pike3374111
Alcorn327474
Scott320374
Yazoo314771
Adams308586
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma299084
Simpson298689
Tippah292468
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Leake272474
Marion271480
Covington267283
Wayne264842
Grenada264087
George252451
Newton249064
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Jasper222148
Attala215173
Chickasaw210759
Holmes190574
Stone188833
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174232
Yalobusha167940
Smith164134
Walthall135547
Greene131934
Lawrence131424
Montgomery128943
Noxubee128034
Perry127538
Amite126542
Carroll122330
Webster115132
Jefferson Davis108534
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96729
Franklin85023
Quitman82316
Choctaw79218
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66328
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 549394

Reported Deaths: 11328
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810851571
Mobile42180832
Madison35733524
Tuscaloosa26186460
Shelby25638255
Montgomery25103615
Baldwin21921314
Lee16301176
Calhoun14725329
Morgan14650286
Etowah14192364
Marshall12465230
Houston10798289
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Limestone10191157
St. Clair10166251
Cullman9975201
Lauderdale9621250
DeKalb8978190
Talladega8467184
Walker7351281
Autauga7244113
Jackson6993113
Blount6957139
Colbert6418140
Coffee5650128
Dale4931116
Russell455241
Chilton4476116
Franklin432082
Covington4283123
Tallapoosa4137155
Escambia402380
Chambers3731124
Dallas3609158
Clarke353361
Marion3264107
Pike314878
Lawrence3135100
Winston283672
Bibb268664
Geneva258782
Marengo250566
Pickens237062
Barbour234460
Hale227078
Butler225071
Fayette219763
Henry194844
Randolph187744
Cherokee187545
Monroe181041
Washington170639
Macon163051
Clay160159
Crenshaw156157
Cleburne153744
Lamar147237
Lowndes142154
Wilcox126830
Bullock124642
Conecuh113830
Coosa112129
Perry108826
Sumter106032
Greene93734
Choctaw62125
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