ELIZABETHTOWN - More than 50 property owners in Essex County could pursue a federal buyout after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene caused severe damage Aug. 28.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution last week that authorizes the county to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for property acquisition in towns like Keene, Jay, Westport and Moriah.
FEMA's website labels the buyout program as a "best practice" for flood mitigation. The property acquisition program offers homeowners "pre-flood, fair-market value" for their property and aims to clear "at-risk" homes out of low-lying, flood-prone areas. As part of the program, "the area is deed restricted and cannot be developed with permanent structures in the future."
Mike Mascarenas, director of Community Resources for Essex County, said that as of last Monday, the county had received 52 buyout applications.
"We have pulled deeds to property taxes," he said, noting that those applications must be filed with FEMA by early December. "We are trying to prepare what we can ahead of time because I believe it is going to be a short turn-around when we finally do get the information."
Board Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay, said the county applied for property acquisition in 1997 and 1998 after major flooding in 1996. He said the application procedure takes a while.
Douglas said the county should consider a stipulation in the buyout process that homeowners look for property within their current town, otherwise towns risk losing a significant portion of their tax bases.
"It is a tough decision because you might lose your tax base," he said. "But in all reality, supervisors are faced with people being flooded numerous times, and they can't possibly go to bed at night thinking that (they) might have put them in harm's way by making them stay there."
Douglas said he has spoken with Terry Martino, executive director of the state Adirondack Park Agency, about possible hamlet expansion to allow flood victims to relocate in the towns where they reside. Mascarenas said FEMA actually prefers that route.
"Those have been the most successful projects that they have been able to run," he said. "So that would be preferred, and hopefully we can find lands within the town of Jay where that can happen."