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Were a river to sweep them away, McGowan says, it would cost taxpayers nothing. There would be no insurance to collect. “I’ve never asked for a dime,” he said.
But county and federal officials say the buildings still represent a danger to others, either by holding back and raising floodwaters upstream, or by adding to the debris on an onrushing surge downstream. Any failure by the county to act “could cause a situation where they’re possibly putting other homes and businesses at risk,” said John Devine, a flood insurance specialist in FEMA’s Chicago regional office. “We don’t want to insure people in those areas where they don’t enforce the minimum [regulations].”
McGowan has enlisted the aid of Walz and other friends in government. Walz has written FEMA Director Craig Fugate, asking for further investigation. McGowan also gets the sympathy of some county commissioners, along with former GOP congressman Vin Weber, his kid cousin.
“This is one of the most gold-hearted people you will ever know,” said Weber, now a well-connected Washington lobbyist.
Despite the good wishes and support, McGowan has come up on a bureaucratic quagmire where the rules are the rules. Meyer, in a peace offering, has raised the prospect of having sentence-to-serve crews — which the county stopped sending to McGowan’s farm — return to rebuild properly permitted structures outside the flood zone.
In the end, the next step is either for the county to act against McGowan, or for FEMA to act against the county, something all sides say they want to avoid.
Said Devine: “We don’t want to go to the next step.”
Follow Kevin Diaz on Twitter: @StribDiaz.