Fifty-six property owners in Essex County are interested in a flood buyout offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after Tropical Storm Irene devastated homes in communities like Keene and AuSable Forks.
FEMA's buyout program lets the federal government acquire property in flood-prone areas. As part of the program, the property becomes deed restricted and is off limits to the development of permanent structures, according to FEMA's website.
Most of Essex County's 56 buyout properties are located in Jay and Keene, although there are a few in the town of Westport.
Community Resources Director Mike Mascarenas told the county's Board of Supervisors last week the federal property acquisition process includes multiple phases and that a letter of intent must be submitted to the county by Feb. 29.
Mascarenas said some homeowners still might not be aware of the program.
"There is still time," he said during last week's Economic Development Committee meeting, the minutes of which are published on the county's website. "Once we send in that letter of intent, I have a feeling that's when the door will close on that possibility."
Board Chairman Randy Douglas, D-Jay, said the process for flood buyouts is "complicated." He said he recently attended a meeting with state and federal emergency officials in Lake Placid, and hopes those officials will participate in a public information meeting soon at the town of Jay Community Center in AuSable Forks.
"It's going to be very informative," Douglas said. "It's going to be concrete answers to questions that everybody may have."
According to Douglas, the criteria for buyouts has changed over the years. To qualify, a property must have been flooded multiple times, not just once. In addition, the damage to a home's value has to exceed 50 percent.
Keene town Supervisor Bill Ferebee said people still have a lot of questions, and he wants emergency officials to be prepared with answers at the potential public information session.
"For example, is there going to be a buyout? Yes or no?" he said. "Is there still a possibility? Yes or no? How are they going to come up with or establish a price that they are going to buy these properties? Are they going to use assessed value? Are they going to use appraised value?"
Mascarenas said he's concerned that a Feb. 29 deadline for letters of intent is too soon and that the county won't be able to provide property owners with enough information by then.
Douglas said traditionally, the homeowner gets 75 percent of the property's assessed value from FEMA. The remainder comes from the county and the state. He added that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a pitch to the federal government to increase its contribution because local governments like the towns of Jay and Keene are already under heavy financial pressure.