Thursday December 20, 2012

LISA RATHKE

Associated Press

MONTPELIER -- The Federal Emergency Management Agency has rejected buyouts for 33 Vermont properties damaged or destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene and spring flooding last year, and the state is considering appeals in some of the cases, a state official in charge of long-term recovery from Irene said Wednesday.

FEMA has approved 81 home buyouts. Under the buyout program, the agency will pay up to 75 percent of a home's value.

But FEMA notified the state in a Dec. 10 letter that 33 properties, including some mobile homes, were ineligible for the buyout program, Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter said.

Some cases were rejected because the homes were demolished before the applications were put in, Minter said. The state may help towns appeal several of these cases, she said.

"For us, it doesn't seem right to somehow penalize someone for demolishing their home when there was an issue of health and safety that required them to do that," Minter said.

Thousands of homes were damaged by Irene on Aug. 28, 2011, and two spring floods that year. About 700 of the homes had damage of more than $10,000, officials said.

FEMA spokesman David Mace said his agency didn't ask for the homes to be torn down. Those decisions were made locally.

Other buyout applications were turned down because the properties were not in a special flood hazard area, Mace said.


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In those cases, FEMA requires that a benefit cost analysis be performed to determine if the project is cost effective, he said.

"So those aren't actually denials as much as they are a yellow light saying we need more information before we can approve this," he said.

The state is working with the town of Jamaica to provide that analysis to FEMA for four properties, Minter said.

Other properties that were rejected were seven in Sharon, including a mobile home park, four in Rochester, 13 at a Brattleboro mobile home park, which has withdrawn its application, and one each in Berlin, Braintree, Newfane, Pittsfield and Westminster.

The state is pulling together a team to look at alternate funding sources to help these homeowners such as banks that may be willing to forgive mortgages, foundations that have raised money for Irene victims and community development block grants, Minter said. The state's hazard mitigation grant committee met Wednesday to reevaluate these properties.

"The state really is not going to leave homeowners hanging," Minter said.