Jamaica Water Street land owners denied buy-out by FEMA

Wednesday December 19, 2012

JAMAICA -- The four previous homeowners on Water Street have been notified that the proposals for land buy-outs have been denied by FEMA.

"They turned us down," said Selectboard Chairwoman Alexa Clark. "We still have a time frame before we do an appeal or go through the Windham Regional Commission."

A couple of weeks ago, the property owners gathered at a special Selectboard meeting and were told that they may not be eligible for potential buy-outs. During the Selectboard meeting, the previous home owners were made aware that the proposals had a likelihood of being denied.

Other possibilities for recompensation were discussed at the meeting, one being sending another proposal for reconsideration and another, applying for Community Development Block Grants Disaster Recovery funds through the WRC.

The four homes on Water Street were destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene, but happened to be outside a FEMA flood zone map for the town.

On Tuesday, David Kaneshiro, one of the property owners, opened an e-mail from Paul Fraser, a town representative whose been submitting the applications for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds from FEMA.

Kaneshiro received official word that the buy-outs had been denied.

"I'm just kind of disappointed with the federal government," he said. "But what are you going to do? We'll see how things go with this other approach that they're working on."

Kaneshiro told the Reformer that the process keeps getting delayed.

"Whatever happens, it will take more time. It's not a real bright future, but it's a future. It's a matter of patience now. I can't change the federal government's decisions."

After the special Selectboard meeting, he had been prepared for the application for HMGP funds to be denied, but the Selectboard hasn't given up on the Water Street buy-outs from FEMA just yet.

"What we're doing is taking one more try at it," said Clark.

The state has received eight other cases of ineligibility for HMGP funding.

"This is not welcome news to anyone after such a long wait. It's extremely frustrating," said Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter, who was the deputy secretary for the Agency of Transportation until last January when the governor appointed her to the position as recovery officer. "As the state, we're not just going to give up and leave the homeowners hanging."

She told the Reformer that the state was going to see if there was any other information that could be provided to FEMA and then it would assemble a state committee to see if there were any appeals that could be made to change the determination made by FEMA.

It will also see if a task force of different entities could join together that could help these property owners. Banks who may be willing to forgive mortgages or portions of mortgages and nonprofits such as the Stratton Foundation and opportunities from the CDBG funds would be looked at as alternative methods to help these land owners.

"This isn't the end of the road," Minter said. "The state's going to regroup to see how it can be helpful."

The Jamaica Selectboard will send FEMA a benefit-cost analyses, which is an application for reconsideration rather than an appeal. It will contain a history of the town of Jamaica, especially of Water Street, where flooding has occurred in storms throughout the century.

The board has 60 days to get the documents to FEMA.

"We're preparing to send that up before we decide on what the appeal entails," said Clark. "That way, they can turn their ‘no' into a ‘yes.'"

The analysis contains an affidavit from a 94-year-old resident from Jamaica, in which she describes all the floods she's seen in the town throughout the years. It will also include several pictures of past floods on Water Street.

"It's more historical and what's been happening with each event we've had here, so they can see damage has been done here before and it's been significant. And hopefully they'll reconsider us and grant us funds," said Clark.

The Selectboard and property owners won't know the decision until after the holidays.

Clark also mentioned the process' cost to the town, which requires gathering new data and submitting new proposals again.

"We need to thoroughly think about what we do next and do the right thing for the town."

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


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