More than 50 Schoharie Valley homes warped by Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding would be demolished under a $7.2 million request being prepared by the Schoharie County Planning and Development Department.
A total of 54 homes in nine towns and two villages could be bought out by the federal government as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s post-disaster Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, according to county Planning Director Alicia Terry.
The number of homes exceeds the count of properties — 49 — that have been bought out under a similar program over the past 16 years.
Eight homes would be lost in the historic village of Middleburgh if the application is approved. And under the provisions of the program, no residential structure could be built on those sites again.
“It’s certainly a tragedy. You don’t want to see people’s lives and dreams demolished,” Middleburgh Mayor Matthew Avitabile said Monday. “However, if this can make ends meet for those that have suffered so much since August, it is necessary.”
The estimated project cost of $7,209,433 includes paying homeowners fair market value — before the flood — for their properties. It also includes money required to demolish any structures, filling the septic system, sealing the water well and closing costs.
Once complete, the property can no longer be used for housing and will wind up in the hands of a local government charged with ensuring the land will remain open space.
Terry said a town or village could put up a picnic pavilion, a softball field or a fishing access site.
“But no one can build a house, a dwelling, a business or anything like that” on the property, she said.
In Schoharie County, it’s likely at least some of these homes are historic, so they will be reviewed by the state historic preservation office, which could determine the home can’t be demolished but must be moved instead, Terry said.
Two proposals on the list, one in the town of Schoharie and the other in the village of Schoharie, would elevate homes to meet with flood plain regulations at a cost of $80,000 each.
As of Monday, some property owners were reconsidering their decision to participate and may pull out instead, she said.
The homeowners have other options, such as selling the property on the open market or selling it to a neighbor.
The figures represent totals for two rounds of the program. The first round had a May 11 deadline but the county received an extension because so many properties are involved, Terry said.
Under a state-run, ongoing flood buyout program run since 1996, a total of 49 homes have been bought out, she said.
There are federal and local benefits in such a project.
At the federal level, flood buyouts prevent spending disaster money for properties in areas expected to flood again. At the local level, Terry said, the buyout program limits the risk to rescuers in future disasters.
“At the more local level, the real savings is not necessarily monetary. What it is is we no longer have to put emergency responders or first-responders in a very hazardous situation,” she said.
The list of those considering the buyout includes four in the town of Schoharie and six in the village of Schoharie.
Schoharie Town Supervisor Eugene Milone said the program gives those affected by the disaster an opportunity to get a fresh start.
“For those that wanted it, I see it as a blessing. It gives them a chance to relocate and start anew,” he said.