Jamaica board approves buyout for Water Street properties

Tuesday August 27, 2013

JAMAICA -- The Selectboard voted to approve entering into a buyout agreement that would provide Water Street property owners with funds that they have long awaited.

"I feel very strongly about us doing this," said Jamaica Selectboard member Judy Flower. "I think we have the opportunity to help people of our community."

On Aug. 26, the Selectboard was met with a round of applause from over 30 residents who gathered at the Town Offices to hear the final decision. Board Chairwoman Lexa Clark read her letter in support of entering into an agreement.

"This is a very emotional issue to many involved," she said. "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. It is the duty of the Selectboard to make the right decision."

Clark said the Selectboard would now make sure the project moves forward in a timely manner.

Although she said there would be no further discussion on the matter, a resident thanked the board.

"It's a little town and I understand that for a lot of us, making decisions can be very difficult and hurtful," the resident said. "I think we can all walk out of here and learn something from this."

The Jamaica Selectboard mentioned the memo that Vermont Legal Aid Jessica Radbord had agreed to write up for the town's attorney to review and respond to. The board had postponed deciding whether or not to go through with the Water Street buyouts at an earlier meeting in July.

Radbord's input was meant to assist the town in supporting the buyouts.

When the agreement is signed, the grantee will be Two Rivers-Outtauqueechee Regional Commission and the town will be the sub-grantee. The town will then own the property where the homes used to sit.

The deal is estimated to cost the town about $13,000 to clear and clean the property. Board members believe it could cost less due to some local contractors offering to work at a discounted price for this particular project.

Fraser had said money was not the issue in this situation. There were other variables to consider.

On July 24, the Selectboard had met with the former Water Street homeowners and Two-Rivers Ottauquechee Grant Administrator Bob Ennis to discuss the possibility of offering the property owners buyouts after their homes were destroyed in Tropical Storm Irene. 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.

At that meeting, Selectboard member Paul Fraser had voiced concern over setting a precedent for purchasing other uninsured properties in similar circumstances by signing the agreement.

"The question is whether or not, by participating in this project, we don't set the precedent ... to reimburse other homeowners or purchase other properties or respond to other uninsured emergencies throughout the town," he said.

Fraser had also previously brought up FEMA's decision to change regulations to include second homeowners in the HMGP guidelines.

Originally, before the properties were not included in the floodplain on FEMA maps, the buyouts were going to be paid for 75 percent by FEMA and the state-funded Community Development Block Grant would cover the remaining 25 percent.

"I think that it was important that Mr. Fraser asked those questions, so we didn't go into something blindly," said Flower. "I'm thankful we have had the opportunity that we could help people."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.


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