On a Saturday morning in Mason City, city officials give a group tour of eight homes once flooded in 2008, in the hopes that someone will come to buy one. and move it out of the floodplain.
It can cost thousands of dollars to pay a contractor to move a two-story, historic house, and turnout is minimal. But a handful of former residents show up to walk through their homes one last time.
“We always had the vines on the house, in the fall they’d turn beautiful colors,” said Sandy Paulsen, as she walked through her former home—a two-story, Tudor Revival built in 1936. “And the sun was just right, and I just lost it.”
There are a number of pre-war homes in the East Park neighborhood, which sits next to a curve in the Winnebago River. Paulsen and her husband raised three children here, in the 80’s and early 90’s. Her family relocated before the flood of 2008.
“It came over the dike… we had friends that lived over on Maryland (Avenue), they saw it coming,” Paulsen said. “They barely got out. It was up to their living room window halfway.”
After the flood, some East Park residents repaired their homes and moved back in. But in late 2009, the city secured money to implement a voluntary buyout of homes in the floodplain. It took another 4 years and $16.2 million for the city to purchase 170 homes. It was the 2nd largest buyout in the state, after Cedar Rapids.
“They pretty much had to take the buyout,” said Curt Sauve, who lives in East Park, but outside of the floodplain. Since the buyouts, he’s watched many of his neighbors move away.
“If they had a flood, they were pretty much on their own. They weren’t going to get more help from FEMA, from what I understand.”
The final eight houses from the Mason City buyout will be up for auction next week, with the condition that buyers pay to move it off the property by September. The city tried to sell about a dozen homes earlier this year, but found only two buyers.
But planning and zoning manager Tricia Sandahl isn’t swayed.
“That neighborhood is representative of the point in Mason City’s history where we had the highest population, and the community was at its economic peak,” Sandahl said. “We’ve taken out about 28 houses. It’s gutted that historic neighborhood.”
What doesn’t sell will be demolished, and the lots returned to green space. Habitat for Humanity volunteer Kurt Kruggel helps salvage building materials from the homes before the bulldozers arrive.
“We got a lot of good furnaces, air conditioners, also, some of the houses, depending on age, had really neat architectural stuff. Unusual doors, windows, trim, that is no longer made.”
Kruggel says one of his favorite homes in town was lost.
“It looked like it popped out of a story book. It’s sad. It’s sad to see a big chunk of the city reduced to rubble,” Kruggel said.
And as the rubble is returned to green space, residents hope future floods won’t take the same toll.