Press-Republican

August 31, 2012

A year later, buyouts still uncertain

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — KEENE — Linda Deyo waded through waist-deep water to escape her home when Tropical Storm Irene hit last August.

A year later, it’s paperwork she must wade through to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy her wrecked property in the Town of Keene.

“We’re in the process,” she said. “We’re waiting for word from FEMA. It’s a little discouraging. You don’t know if you’re going to get any money for your old property.”

She and her husband, Danny, had to buy a new house. The old one off Route 9 in the town’s hamlet of Keene was destroyed by flood waters.

“We left when we realized the water was coming through the house,” Mrs. Deyo said. “I knew it was faster and harder than the previous flood (in June 2011). I took things upstairs.”

As well, she said, “we had to get horses and dogs out.”

She said she’s never seen a flood of that magnitude.

“It was an amazing occurrence. I had a barn that was picked up and smashed to pieces. It was truly unreal to see huge white pines floating down the river on both sides of the house.”

TWO BUYOUT PROGRAMS

The Deyos are among 69 homeowners in the North Country waiting to find out whether FEMA will buy them out.

Some areas were really hard hit, like Grove Road and the Jersey section of AuSable Forks, and multiple buyout applications were submitted from people who lived on those streets.

Essex County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) said Grove Road — the site of a 1998 FEMA buyout of about 20 homes — was hit hard again, along with the town’s youth facilities there. Many homes on Route 9N in Upper Jay were also destroyed this time, he said, and there was severe damage in Keene and other communities, as well. 

FEMA offers two buyout programs, Essex County Director of Community Resources Michael Mascarenas explained.

“One is for substantially damaged homes. You have to have 50 percent or greater damage and reside in the 100-year food plain.”

There are 54 homes in that segment: in Jay, Elizabethtown, Keene, North Hudson, Westport and Essex.

“The lion’s share is in (the Jay hamlets of) AuSable Forks, Jay and Upper Jay and quite a few in Keene,” he said.

The second buyout is for non-substantially damaged property, not in a flood plain, and 15 homes fit in that program, most in Jay.

A cost-benefit analysis was required for the non-substantially damaged properties but not for the substantially damaged group, he said.

SWEPT DOWNRIVER

“It was an unprecedented storm,” Mascarenas said. “Some say it was a 500-year flood.”

Nothing has been approved yet, he said, but “FEMA says within a month we may know something.”

If FEMA approves the buyout, he said, the county must get an appraisal of each home, because the feds will only pay 75 percent of the appraised value.

“It’s quite a process. We have been diligent. Some of these houses are uninhabitable; some houses don’t exist anymore. 

“They were taken down the river and deposited somewhere.”

STILL HOMELESS

FEMA’s payment would include the demolition cost, restoration of the site and appraisal fees. 

“They lump all that cost together,” Mascarenas said. “Then we have to go the homeowner and negotiate a price.”

The county will own the property after that, he said.

“We have to destroy the home and restore the site. It’s another year for us. The homeowner, hopefully, will be able to move on.”

Some people have been staying in apartments or living with relatives since the storm.

“They’re struggling to make ends meet while they wait,” Mascarenas said.

Douglas said Mascarenas has a good handle on the program.

“Mike has done an outstanding job,” he said. “He’s our go-to guy.”

STILL EVALUATING

Douglas said he’s been told by his contacts that they should know within two weeks who qualifies for a buyout.

“We had a representative from the State Emergency Management Agency looking at homes. The qualifications are being part of multiple (flood) events and more than 50 percent damage. Some might not have qualified. 

“They’re still evaluating all the homes.”

The maximum FEMA payment is about $30,000 for anyone who does not qualify for the buyout.

The property owner doesn’t have to take the amount offered for a buyout, and some people probably will not, Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said.

“It’s not going to make people whole. Some people will absolutely turn it down.”

Jaquish said they’re working hard to do everything they can for flood victims.

“Many homeowners still have no resolution to the storm,” Mascarenas said. “Their lives haven’t been able to go on. 

“I feel bad for a lot of these people. These lives were turned upside down.”

Email Lohr McKinstry: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com

Overcoming Irene

A year after the massive Tropical Storm, the North Country is still picking up the pieces. This is the sixth in a series of articles catching up with those who found themselves in the center of the storm as victims and rescuers and what life post-Irene has brought them.