Iowa Officials Deny Newspaper’s Flood Damage Request

September 2, 2008

Cedar Rapids, Iowa city officials said address-by-address flood damage data is not public record, despite a U.S. Circuit Court ruling in Florida in 2007 that said the data is public.

An assistant city attorney in Cedar Rapids said the city denied the Cedar Rapid Gazette’s Freedom of Information request for release of address-by-address damage assessments, citing U.S. privacy law.

The Gazette asked Cedar Rapids City Hall to provide address-by-address information about damage assessments of the 850 homes in the city’s 100-year flood plain.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jim Prosser said last week he wanted to review the matter.

A finding of substantial damage, meaning at least 50 percent of a home’s value is damaged, can qualify some homeowners for more insurance money.

City officials contend that the data belongs to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and not the city, though the flood damage information was mailed to homeowners by the city’s Code Enforcement Division.

The newspaper cited a June 2007 ruling by the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, in which FEMA was ordered to release to Florida news organizations address-by-address information about relief provided after hurricanes in 2004.

The ruling said the names of FEMA relief receipients was private, but said the addresses were public record.

The most FEMA pays for property damage is $28,800.

Cedar Rapids city officials initially announced that fewer than 50 percent of the homes in the city’s 100-year flood plain were found to have substantial damage. A city councilman questioned the findings, and city is now offering free re-examinations for those who have contractor estimates that contradict the city’s estimates.

Source: The Gazette.

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