Property owners get info on flood buy-out program

By Pauline Liu
Delaware County will handle the application process for flood buyouts on behalf of Town of Middletown property owners whose homes and businesses were severely damaged by tropical storms Irene and Lee last year.

About 60 people packed into the meeting room at Middletown Town Hall last Thursday night to hear details of the program. Most people came to find out about buyouts under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).

The program also covers elevations, which would involve raising entire buildings to make them less vulnerable to flooding.

Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will be made available through the State Emergency Management Office (SEMO). 
The county will serve as the applicant for the grants.

“We are the applicant because we have the staff and the expertise,” said Chairman of the Delaware County Board of Supervisors Jim Eisel Sr., who was contacted by phone after the meeting.

Takes two years
“It’s a lengthy, convoluted process. The towns and villages don’t have the staff. Whatever the towns and villages want, we will do. We’re not there to strong-arm them. We’re there to help in any way. It’s an advisory position,” Eisel added.

This isn’t the first time that Town of Middletown residents have sought buyouts through the county. Catskill Watershed Corporation Executive Director Alan Rosa, was town supervisor during the flood of 1996.

“It was done the same way in 1996,” said Rosa.” The town doesn’t have the staff. There was no way that we would have the expertise. We don’t have a planning department, economic development or soil and water. I think it worked out excellent. We lost 95 percent of our roads to flooding, so it was different back then, and we had three floods that year. The county has a lot to offer,” he added.

Damage must top 50%
The county’s chief planner, Shelly Johnson made a brief presentation at the town hall meeting. She explained that in order to qualify for a buyout, damage to a property must be equal to or greater than 50 percent of that the structure’s market value before damages.

“That determination will be made by Pat Davis (Middletown Code Enforcement Officer),” said Johnson. “We will need a letter from him determining that your property is substantially damaged. He will use a formula. You will have to come into compliance with floodplain code and building codes. That is what the federal government requires them to do. So they can be compliant with the national floodplain program or else FEMA can refuse to reimburse you.”

A construction consultant hired by the county also addressed the crowd. Jonathan Raser of Tetra Tech, which is based in Morris Plains, NJ, told listeners that those who qualify for buyouts will be offered fair market value for their property.

While FEMA will pay for 75 percent of the buyout, Raser explained that the remaining 25 percent requires a local match. In the past, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) or the state has been able to partner with FEMA to pay for the buyout, but given the current economy, Raser explained that property owners have been coming up with money themselves. 
However, the News contacted DEP and talks are apparently underway.

“DEP is currently in discussions with a number of local stakeholders to see whether DEP resources can help leverage FEMA money that will be administered by New York State to buy out flood-damaged properties,” said Mercedes Padilla, a spokesperson for DEP. “DEP has expressed a willingness to partner in the FEMA program, if requested by communities,” Padilla added. 
According to Johnson, buyouts generally take two years to complete.

“I’ll be frank with you, Delaware County is not huge fan of buying your land and sending you on your way,” explained Johnson. “It’s written for an entire country, instead of upstate New York. We do know that there are homeowners who have lost everything and this is the only thing we can do to help you. We don’t want to depopulate the area,” she added. 

Among those who’ve expressed interest in a buyout is Heidi Hochman, who owns the Sunshine Mobile Home Park on Pavilion Road in Arkville. She explained that nine mobile homes were washed away and five remain. 

“If I could sell it I’d like to, but I don’t own the homes that are left,” she said. “I do know some of them have gotten money from FEMA. I feel like a murderer to do this to these poor people. I can’t tell them they have to go, because I’m selling it. We rebuilt after the ’96 flood, but I’m too to old to do it again,” she added.

Floodwaters forced Tom and Tina Greene and their two school-aged daughters to flee their home on Main Street in Margaretville. Though they have flood insurance, they explained they have not received enough money to restore their home. They’re continuing to live in a rental in Arkville.
The Greenes have sought assistance from both Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and their insurance agent at the Sluiter Agency. “They’ve been very helpful,” said Tina. “We want a buyout. We want to stay in the area and we intend to stay,” she added.

Those who are interested in applying for a buyout or elevation, should contact the Delaware County Planning Department by Friday, Feb. 10 to give planners an idea of how many people are applying. The actual deadline for filing letters of intent to SEMO is February 29.  “We actually have to do a letter of intent for every individual property that has to be elevated and one letter for all of the people on the acquisition list,” said Johnson, who said that property owners can be on both lists.
For more information contact Delaware County’s Chief Planner Shelly Johnson at 607 746-2944 or shelly.johnson@co.delaware.ny.us.