Water Street property owners weigh in on CDBG buy-outs

Saturday February 2, 2013

JAMAICA -- Water Street property owners aren't going to wait until March to hear from FEMA about land buy-outs.

They are already filling out paperwork that may help them get a buy-out in which the town would end up owning the land.

"I can't wait to get back to Vermont," said Tracy Payne, one of the four property owners. "Vermont is my home. I just have this feeling that this is a good group of people and that now, we'll be able to get things done."

These property owners had their homes destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene and have learned recently that their applications for a FEMA program will be deemed ineligible.

On Thursday at the Jamaica Town Offices, the property owners met individually with Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Economic, Housing and Community Development Jennifer Hollar, Director of Vermont Community Development Program Josh Hanford and Kevin Geiger, from the Two Rivers-Ottaquechee Regional Commission. Each person's situation will differ, having to do with mortgages and loans, as well as assistance already received.

"This was the formal initial meeting, with what the process is going to be from here," said Dave Kaneshiro, who lost his home in the storm. "That's why the caseworker was with us. She needs to be able to coordinate all that and if she needs to, she can contact any groups that may be able to support us as individuals."

Kaneshiro told the Reformer that the property owners are trying to get information from as many groups as possible that can help.

"I have a lot of hopes again," said Payne. "I think that's human nature, to have hope. I'm hopeful and still real positive."

Each property owner has a case manager, who has been assigned by Southeastern Vermont Community Action.

The case workers are going to see what other organizations they can get to assist each property owner. Talks have mentioned private banks and organizations such as the Stratton Foundation, which has already helped the Water Street victims in the beginning.

The Selectboard left shortly after the private sessions began. Its biggest concern is finding a way that will make the process have the least amount of burden on the town and its taxpayers.

"We'll take it one day at a time," said Jamaica Selectboard Chairwoman Alexa Clark. "We'll see what they have to offer."

The property owners are still weary after the FEMA process, but they are hopeful nonetheless.

"I'm just really hoping that, even beyond the buy-out, that there may be help for me," said Payne. "I think for the first time, I am allowing myself to have a dream of owning a home again."

Payne told the Reformer that she wants to be home again, "more than anything." The meeting with Hollar, Geiger, Hanford and the Selectboard has left her with more hope.

"It just feels amazing, being held on to by everyone," she said. "We actually started the process and I guess where we go from here is hopefully finding out what percentage of our value of our homes will be offered to us."

Payne said that she is hoping for more than the 25-percent from CDBG funds, that was supposed to be in addition to the 75-percent buy-out from FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

"How much that is, I don't know yet," said Payne. "Now that FEMA is kind of out of our way, we can make progress."

The property owners had been waiting over a year to learn that they would most likely be deemed ineligible after the last and final test, a benefit cost analysis. This test had been performed by State Hazard Mitigation Officer Ray Doherty.

The benefit cost analysis was to show that this specific area had seen significant damage in other historical events. Doherty had been unable to come up with enough data to support what FEMA had been looking for.

Although, FEMA has until March 1 to accept or deny the Water Street buy-outs, these previous homeowners are moving forward regardless. Hollar emphasized that the state and property owners should act as if the HMGP buy-outs went through.

However, the property owners were all in the same boat when they were applying for HMGP buy-outs.

"FEMA's HMGP was a group effort," said Kaneshiro. "Because we all had the same damages."

Now, the process will be more individually tailored.

The property owners are going to fill out more paperwork, but some of the information that they need, they already will have on file, because they needed it when applying for the HMGP.

In the past, Irene Recovery Chief Paul Fraser has organized group meetings to make sure all the applications were filled out correctly and on time. Those applications would be sent in as a package.

One thing is for certain, the Jamaica Selectboard continues to show their support for these victims.

"The town is waiting to see," said Kaneshiro. "What is going to be covered? If the land would be cleared? Will it be covered by some of the grants?"

At Thursday's meeting, an estimated timeline was given. It was said that it could take three to four months, from when the paperwork begins, until the town could start cleaning up the properties. This work would include taking out part of a barn that remains and a well.

The town will be able to use that land to create a park, a fishing access or trails.

The property owners are now on call, hoping that this plan works out, this time.

"We're waiting on the next piece of information," said Payne.

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


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