By LOHR McKINSTRY
---- — JAY — A $2.7 million buyout of 26 Essex County properties destroyed by last year’s floods has been OK’d by federal authorities.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Essex County officials this week.
Most of the homes are in Keene and Jay, with a few in Essex, Elizabethtown and Port Henry. All are either on the Ausable River, Bouquet River or East Mill Brook.
Essex County Director of Community Resources Michael Mascarenas said once a 15-day comment period is up, the Hazard Mitigation Assistance funding will be official.
“We heard from FEMA that 26 substantially damaged properties were tentatively approved. We have to put it out to public notice, a 15-day comment period. We’re going to have some resolution very soon.”
County Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay) praised Mascarenas and County Manager Daniel Palmer for their work on the buyout application.
“It’s finally something,” Douglas said. “They (homeowners) can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Keene Town Supervisor William Ferebee said most of the people getting the buyout in his town decided to stay in the community after their homes were destroyed.
“It’s been a long road coming. The frustrating part is the lack of FEMA communication to our constituents involved in the buyout. People looked to us for answers and we haven’t been able to give them any. I’m pleased they made the announcement. Now we have to give these folks their money and move on.”
Mascarenas said creating an open space in perpetuity is all they can do with those properties after they have been acquired. The county will own the land once the buildings are demolished and removed.
“This (is for) properties that were determined to be substantially damaged,” he said. “The definition of substantially damaged are those properties that are within the 100-year flood plain and received over 50 percent damage.”
The damage had to have occurred during Tropical Storm Irene, in August 2011, or Tropical Storm Lee, in September 2011.
U.S. Soil and Water District Manager David Reckahn also brought good news when he announced that a stream-bank remediation project for rivers and streams damaged by Irene will start this week.
“It’s like an early Christmas for my people,” Douglas said.
FLOOD EFFECTS LINGER
The county also has an application in to FEMA for payment for non-substantially damaged properties, but Mascarenas said there’s no word on that yet.
“Essentially, those properties are either less than 50 percent damaged and in a flood plain or more than 50 percent damaged and not in the 100-year flood plain. FEMA runs a benefit costs analysis to determine the likelihood of those homes being flooded again.”
Mascarenas said many people are still affected by the storms a year and half later.
“They are struggling to make ends meet as they are trying to pay a mortgage on a house they can’t live in, while paying rent and providing for their families. We are hopeful that within the next few months we can get these people as back to normal as possible.”
Several people have worked very hard to help make sure this happens, he said, including Douglas and Ferebee.
“(They) have been working with FEMA since last August to ensure the people in their communities get what they most desperately need,” Mascarenas said. “Lynn Donaldson of the Office of Community Resources stepped up and did much of the legwork.
“We are most happy that this project is moving forward.”
One of those in the buyout program, Linda Deyo of Route 9 in Keene, said the announcement is good news, but they don’t know the amount FEMA is proposing to pay them.
“We have never received a monetary offer. Until we know what they’re offering us for the property, I can’t say yes or no. If it’s a fair offer it would be terrific.”
Those details will apparently be worked out once the program gets underway.
The FEMA program will pay property owners 75 percent of the appraised value of their homes. It also covers the cost of demolishing structures, and grading and seeding sites.
Written comments on the buyout may be submitted by mail to FEMA Region II, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Leo O’Brien Federal Building, 11A Clinton Square, Room 742, Albany, New York 12206-5421, or by email to FEMA-R2-HMA@fema.dhs.gov. Comments should be submitted within 15 days.
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