9:26 PM
In a public meeting held at Branson City Hall tonight the mayor and board of alderman have voted to bring in an impartial third party to investigate an employees claims that the city defrauded FEMA of over one million dollars.

Interim City Planning and Development Director, Ruth Denham (b.), maintains that FEMA never would have re-mapped the 100 year flood plain if they had known that there were basements at The Branson Landing that had not been waterproofed in The Hilton Promenade Hotel and Waxy Oshea's Irish Pub.

Denham addressed the board last week with her grievances in a memo she presented to the mayor and board of alderman.

During construction from 2004-2006, Branson Landing remained in the 100 year-flood plain of Lake Taneycomo.

The Landing officially opened in May 2006 after more than two years of construction.

And just about this time last year The Landing flooded after torrential rainfall in southwest Missouri.

On July 23, 2007, Branson's Building Division supervisor wrote to the city attorney and city manager with a warning.

"If FEMA does approve the application, and certain buildings that are non-compliant are removed from the flood plain due to insufficient or inaccurate information, the city will have participated in misleading other regulatory agencies, lenders, tenants, etc."

The city attorney responded, "This proposed letter looks good to me."

On July 25, 2007, after the building supervisor refused, Branson's city attorney signed off on the report to FEMA, saying the city will need "additional dry or wet flood proofing," and that it's in the works.

Denham's attorney says there is no way it was in the works, since waterproofing the basement walls was cut from the project more than a year earlier.

In the Lake Taneycomo area, the base flood elevation is 719 feet above sea level, according to Branson City Engineer David Miller said.

Any area below that elevation is considered to be in a 100-year flood plain, and structures built there are subject to stricter requirements in the National Flood Insurance Program according to a FEMA representative.

FEMA only approved the new flood pain map that moved the shopping and "lifestyle center" out of the flood zone in 2008.

FEMA representative Pam Franke told the Springfield News-Leader that the city could have applied for a conditional letter of mapping revision if it knew the project would move its elevation above the base flood elevation but said Branson didn't do so.

Without that conditional letter, Branson was supposed to build to the standards set forth in the National Flood Insurance Program, according to Franke.

According to Franke there are only two assistance funds that would have been available to the city; the public assistance grant, and a hazard mitigation grant. Franke said that Branson has not recieved any money from FEMA from either of those programs.

Miller said that the developer (HCW) told officials in Branson that the conditional letter was optional and that the developer for the Landing chose not to apply for it. FEMA used that information last year to remove the Branson Landing project from a flood plain.

The Building Supervisor for the city would not sign permanent certificates of occupancies for the buildings in question because they are not compliant with city code.

So technically, because the temporary certificates of occupancy have expired, and permanent certificates have not been issued to any of the buildings at The Landing, therefore the buildings are in violation of city code.

No word on when the city administrator will start the bidding process for an impartial third party to investigate both sides of the issue.

A FEMA rep in Kansas City told me today that they had received some of the planning maps and other documents related to The Landing project that they had requested from Washington and would like to study them for a few weeks before making comment.

UPDATE: (04-01-09)

The City of Branson has hired Little Rock native Jim Lawson as the new Planning and Development Director.

The search for a Planning Director has been going on for some time now, however, the hiring of Lawson comes about ten days after interim Planning and Development Director Ruth Denham, took her concerns about the controversy involving the city, Branson Landing and FEMA public.

Lawson replaces Don Stephens, who resigned as Branson’s planning and development director last October.




Branson Engineering Department power point response

Planning and Zoning staff report on Denham's concerns

Memo that Denham wrote on Oct. 28, 2008

****meeting image from Hometown Radio