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Money stalls flood buyouts in Schoharie County

Thursday, December 6, 2012
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— An effort to buy out dozens of flooded properties could stall if Schoharie County municipalities and homeowners don’t come up with at least $1.7 million in matching funds.

The county’s Planning and Development department submitted applications totaling $6.78 million to acquire 44 homes under FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program administered by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, according to county senior planner Shane Nickle.

Federal disaster declarations that followed tropical storms Irene and Lee enabled Schoharie and dozens of other counties to pay flooded property owners fair market value for their homes, leaving the land in the hands of the municipalities to turn into parks if they want to.

To participate, landowners had to sustain substantial damage — at least 50 percent of the property value — and be situated within a 100-year flood plain. The 44 properties are in nine different municipalities. The state office is sending application packages to FEMA in batches, so there’s no scheduled date when homeowners will learn if they’ve been approved.

There are a variety of additional costs in an entire buyout package, including attorney’s fees, property appraisals and demolition, and only a few means by which localities can avoid putting 25 percent of the total cost into the program.

“We’re looking for ways to deal with the 25 percent. A lot of municipalities throughout the valley have said they are not in the situation where they can provide any cash to this project,” Nickle said.

According to program details posted on the state website, the program requires 25 percent of the cost to come from non-federal sources, and there are currently no plans for New York state to pick that up.

Some work can be credited towards the 25 percent match, including the value of the municipality’s staff and expenses processing applications, time and materials a homeowner spent on post-flood repairs or Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development.

Schoharie County Treasurer William Cherry on Wednesday said there’s no funding in the county’s 2013 budget for the matching funds.

Applications for an additional five homes are being processed for a second and third phase of the program opened up by tropical storms Irene and Lee, Nickle said.

The county Planning Department is also coordinating four elevation projects — raising homes above the flood levels — under the program. One is expected to cost $100,000 and three others planned for future phases could total $400,000.

If all of the pending buyouts and elevations go through, that would be 89 homes taken out of Mother Nature’s way.

Nickle said 40 homes were acquired in the past, the bulk of them following flooding in 1996.

The acquisition program is time-consuming; it’s not considered an emergency response function but rather a planning tool, according to the state.

Currently, Schoharie County is seeking contractors to tear down 1184 State Route 990V, a property that loses several feet of backyard to the Manor Kill every time there’s high water.

The department submitted an application for this project prior to the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene. The county was successful in its application to FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation program that’s ongoing and doesn’t require a disaster declaration.

The effort is expected to cost between $100,000 and $150,000. Greene County’s soil and water conservation district is covering the 25 percent match for this buyout, Nickle said.

 
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