In Newfane, 'relief' at Irene buyouts
NEWFANE -- On Aug. 28, 2011, Tara Jean Torcoletti watched her home float away.
As Tropical Storm Irene fed floods that roared through Newfane's Dover Road corridor, Torcoletti sought higher ground. The swelling Rock River topped the nearby Hunter Brook Bridge, then reached her property.
"The bank was eaten out from underneath," she recalled. "The roof slid off, and then the whole house went in."
On Friday, Torcoletti and the owner of another Irene-damaged property achieved some closure by signing their properties over to the town through a federally funded buyout program.
A brief gathering at the town office was the culmination of years of negotiation and paperwork. Selectboard member Chris Druke, who has worked extensively on the buyouts, pronounced herself "relieved."
"It's kind of a very slow process," Druke said.
The buyout program allows towns -- working with property owners and with state and federal officials -- to take ownership of severely flood-damaged properties.
All structures are then demolished, and the parcels must remain undeveloped in perpetuity.
Last month, Newfane completed its first buyout after negotiating a purchase price of $90,000 for 236 Dover Road.
On Friday, the town took title to 28 Stratton Hill Road and 5 Hickey Road. The properties were purchased for identical sums of $106,318, records show.
In contrast to the process of rebuilding flood-damaged bridges -- where a project must be finished before the town is reimbursed -- Druke said federal cash already is in hand for the buyouts.
"This is very good news," Druke told her fellow Selectboard members at a meeting the night before the buyouts were completed. "All the money has been allocated, and the funds are with the treasurer."
Druke added that demolition could happen within several weeks following an asbestos assessment at the properties.
Friday's ceremony included a specially made "Vermont Strong" cake, a round of applause and plenty of gratitude, with Druke acknowledging Shannon Meckle and Pat Grace -- the Selectboard's current and former administrative assistants -- for their work on the buyouts.
Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack praised Druke, who has been putting in long hours on federal-reimbursement issues related to Irene.
"The work that Chris has done on this really far exceeds what the town has any right to wish for," Mack said.
And, of course, there was commendation for the property owners whose homes and lives were dealt a blow by Irene.
"We appreciate you guys being so patient and tolerant and bearing with this whole process," Druke said.
Torcoletti has resettled in West Townshend. Little remains of her former Hickey Road home, save for a front doorstep with railings still attached.
"It's just a relief," she said of the completed buyout. "I'm very thankful (town officials) did all this work."
Daniel and Lyndsey Boyd had been renovating their Stratton Hill Road home in Newfane when Irene struck.
"We were almost done," Daniel Boyd recalled.
The couple, aware of the approaching storm, had left their home the night before. They returned on the morning of Aug. 28, and things seemed to be fine.
After all, under normal conditions, the water running in front of their house could not be called a river.
"It's a trickling stream," Lyndsey Boyd said.
But Irene turned those small streams into raging torrents. Not long after departing from her home the day of the storm, Lyndsey Boyd got a call informing her that "there's water at your front door."
Flooding badly undermined the home, which is still precariously propped above a washed-out foundation.
The buyout process did not go quickly for the Boyds, who are building a new home in Marlboro.
"It's frustrating," Daniel Boyd said. "But the people working with us made it a lot easier."
Town officials still are working on two more buyouts, both on Dover Road. Druke said she expects those to be complete sometime in 2014.
Selectboard member and Newfane Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli urged officials to begin thinking about possible green-space uses for the buyout properties.
"It might be a park," she said. "It might be a playground."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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