Limestone resident Marsha Messick and her husband live and raise livestock on a property that backs up against the Verdigris River.
Since May, more than a quarter of an acre of their property has fallen off and floated away.
During the worst of 2019 storms, they evacuated for 10 days due to flooding at the front of their property while the riverbank washed away the back.
In total, the family lost approximately 14,000-square-feet of land, including 700 feet of pipe fencing and half of a wooden round pen.
Before the flooding started, roughly 15- feet of trees and land served as a buffer between the pipe fence and the river. Afterwards, most of the fence was washed away, with a few pieces dangling off a 20-foot cliff of loose dirt into the river.
“If you figure that at $12 to $15 a foot, that’s probably $12,000 of fencing that fell in the river,” Messick said
The Messicks sold their horses because the property they used to keep them on is now gone, and the remaining land in unstable.
“We have two issues. The river is taking our property and the county will not fix anything and maintain our ditches, so we are flooding from the front also,” Messick said. “We want someone to realize what is happening out here.”
“I’ve been down to the county assessor’s office to have the property reassessed because we are paying taxes on property that we do not have,” “When the land falls in the river, it doesn’t come back.”
The land Messick and her neighbors live on is known for its instability. The Keetonville Road Bridge, just over a mile from her house, was condemned due to instability in 2008 and never replaced, leaving them three miles in on a dead-end road.
“I want riffraff here or I want them to buy us out,” she said. “If this continues, the river is going to be at my house.”
Messick is one of 190 Rogers County residents who filed property damages with FEMA.
A number of those residents have expressed intent to pursue a buy-out with Rogers County Emergency Management Director Scotty Stokes.
“Everybody hears about buy-outs and talks about them, but they are not very common,” Stokes said. “A buy-out can happen, but it is a very lengthy process.”
In Rogers County there has only been one FEMA buy-out in recent memory, Stokes said, in the area where firefighter Jason Farley drowned.
Oklahoma Emergency Management is holding a meeting in September to get local emergency managers up-to-date buy-out information.
“I’m trying to get some proper answers, that way I can answer the citizens in a timely fashion, but with FEMA and the state not wanting or not able to get this process started until September, that kind of puts us in a stand-still,” Stokes said. “It’s tied up in governmental red tape.”
“It could be anywhere from six to 18 months before anybody receives a check,” Stokes said.
FEMA only allows buy-outs for one acre or less. When the land is purchased, it becomes county property, and all the structures on site are demolished.
Remaining acreage stays with property owner.
County Commissioner Steve Hendrix speculated that it may be possible for the county to buy the remaining property as they would buy right-of-way, but it would be something they could only look into after the FEMA buy-out was complete.
When it comes to emergency management, Hendrix said, “I am not involved, as a county commissioner, in that process.”
“It is all FEMA at this point,” Hendrix said. “We are at their mercy.”
“If we had the ability to speed this process up, we would,” Hendrix said. “They are dealing with 76 other counties in the same shape and with the same requests as us.”
“Getting knowledge from a government bureaucracy such as this is aggravating, I know that people are aggravated at this process and we are aggravated at this process as well,” Hendrix said. “We’re proceeding as quickly as we can, and that is really all we can tell people at this time.”
In the meantime, “Everyday we come out and more has fallen. You can be out here and all of the sudden there will be a crashing noise and it just goes,” Messick said. “This lady on Keetonville Road is not going to shut up until something is done.”