JAMAICA -- Former Water Street homeowner David Kaneshiro is celebrating the second year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene, only because it was the same week that the Selectboard approved the buyout agreement.
"I wouldn't celebrate the disaster or anything like that," he said. "It just so happened to be the same week as Irene, within days of it. It's an interesting circumstance."
Kaneshiro said it was a relief when the board voted in favor of the former homeowners on Aug. 26.
"We're so used to being denied," he said. "It's like a feeling of being acquitted. You watch these trials on TV that go on and on. When the person's acquitted, everyone's so relieved. I felt the same way."
Before the Selectboard voted to enter into an agreement as subgrantee with Two Rivers-Outtaquechee Regional Commission, the board had postponed making a decision.
On July 24, Vermont Legal Aid Jessica Radbord told the board to give her two weeks to come up with a memo for the town attorney that would ensure that the Selectboard wasn't setting itself up for future lawsuits.
Selectboard member Paul Fraser was concerned that if the board approved the buyouts, they'd set a precedent that would make future selectboards susceptible to uninsured homeowners in similar disasters.
"She was backing us up," said Kaneshiro of Radbord. "She got together with the town attorney and got that information across, so there wouldn't be a lot of confusion at the next meeting."
Between the two Selectboard meetings, Radbord advised the former homeowners to approach the situation quietly.
"I noticed that not only were there emotional outbursts but the board was becoming defensive rather than definitive," Kaneshiro said of the July meeting. "You're not going to resolve any type of situation that way."
During that meeting, the Selectboard met with the former Water Street homeowners and the regional commission's Grant Administrator Bob Ennis to discuss the possibility of the buyouts. The regional commission had been working to come up with state funding for the buyouts since the properties were deemed ineligible for FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.
Fraser had mentioned the precedence issue as well as FEMA's decision to change regulations to include second homeowners in the HMGP guidelines.
While Radbord came up with a legal solution for protecting the town from future lawsuits, the former homeowners waited until the next meeting. Kaneshiro had talked to several members of the community while visiting town. When they asked him how things were going, he told them to go to the next meeting.
After the two lawyers met, the Selectboard made its final decision in favor of the former homeowners. The decision was met with applause from over 30 members of community who had come in support of the Water Street buyouts.
"At the end, I thought both sides, including the audience, were very cordial," said Kaneshiro. "We were all very relieved that we don't have to deal with the bump in the road. The light at the end of the tunnel that was turned off by FEMA was turned back on by the state."
Selectboard Chairwoman Lexa Clark read a letter aloud to those gathered at the meeting. She said it would be the board's role to make sure the project moves forward in a timely manner.
"This is a very emotional issue to many involved. We can't ignore our responsibility to fulfill our primary objective to help the town mitigate future flood risks. I think we heard the concerns on all sides and agonized over the decision," said Clark. "It is the duty of the Selectboard to make the right decision."
Kaneshiro had been living in Jamaica since 1975. He has known many of the residents and said their support at the last Selectboard meeting showed the general concern of the people for their neighbors.
"In a little country town like that, it's good to know when the people are concerned, they will get involved, even if they just sit there and listen," said Kaneshiro.
Not only in the buyout circumstances did the support of the community prevail.
Shortly after Irene hit, Selectboard member Judy Flower and her husband Ed Flower organized post-Irene support group meetings for those who affected by the storm.
Kaneshiro recalled the assistance following the day of Irene, which included the owners of D & K's Grocery on Route 30. Red Cross and the Salvation Army set up stations in the Jamaica Community Church. The Three Mountain Inn had a headquarters for a FEMA control center, where the Jamaica Fire Department temporarily worked out of, along with other emergency responders.
"The town itself jumped right in. It was just amazing for a little town like Jamaica. Everyone jumped," said Kaneshiro.
Selectboard member Andy Coyne had recused himself from the buyout vote because he still lives on Water Street. During the storm, he was the appointed health officer for the town. He was telling the homeowners they couldn't go into their homes.
Kaneshiro told the Reformer his biggest support now is Elizabeth McEwen. She is his disaster case manager assigned by Southeastern Vermont Community Action.
"She's still a big help with getting organizations together and making sure I didn't skip anything," he said.
Kaneshiro thinks the approximate date for closing on the buyout is sometime between November and December. The town will be completing paperwork and legal procedures for the buyout to be processed.
"You never know how things are going to turn out," said Kaneshiro. "That's the end of that chapter I guess you can say and a new chapter starts."
He is hopeful that things keep going in the same direction and that he'll have enough money to own another home again by the spring. The plan is to continue staying focused on doing his part by filling in the paperwork.
Other organizations have mentioned that financial assistance will likely follow closing on the buyouts.
"Everything is 75 percent," said Kaneshiro. So some of the organizations are standing by to help with the balancing 25. They can't do anything until they have that settlement. It's just a matter of time."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or email@example.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.