The Federal Emergency Management Agency has informed Essex County that 26 properties deemed "substantially damaged" by Irene have received final approval for the buyout program. The project is expected to cost more than $3.5 million, and FEMA has agreed to pay about 75 percent of the cost.
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Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas said he knew the buyout process would be lengthy, and he's glad the end is in sight.
"We are very happy with the end result, to have the substantial properties now approved; we're just waiting to sign the contract," he said.
Nineteen of the homes are in the town of Jay, four are in Keene, and there is one each in Essex, North Hudson and Westport.
Essex County is still waiting to receive a contract from FEMA. Once that's signed, the county has 120 days to determine the "pre-disaster fair market value" of the homes. Then the county will make an offer to the property owners, who have 30 days to accept or reject it.
Essex County will purchase the homes, demolish them and restore the properties. Then, the properties are turned over to the towns they reside in, and future building is prohibited.
Mike Mascarenas is director of Essex County's Community Resources Department. He said only homes deemed substantially damaged qualified for the buyout program.
"In order to qualify for the substantially damaged [category], you have to reside in the 100-year flood plain and be damaged greater than 50 percent," he said. "So where the confusion comes in there is that a non-substantially-damaged home could be damaged 100 percent, but if it didn't reside in that 100-year flood plain, it doesn't qualify."
The total buyout project is expected to cost about $3.57 million, but the county can only seek reimbursements of up to about $2.68 million for the purchase, demolition and restoration of the properties.
Mascarenas said in most cases, homeowners will receive less than 75 percent of their property's pre-disaster fair market value.
The county is responsible for establishing fair market value of the properties. Mascarenas said that can be tricky because some of the homes sustained heavy damage.
"So they would say, 'OK, if this was in good condition - inhabitable - this is what it would have been worth today,' because some of them don't even exist anymore," he said. "So the appraiser has got to utilize the information they had on that home prior to (Irene). They look at old deeds, they look at old assessments - the house had this many bedrooms, this many bathrooms - the sales in the area were X, Y and Z. And that's how they determine that fair market value."
Nearly 70 property owners expressed interest in the buyout program when the county started the process more than a year ago. Some didn't qualify, while others decided to stay and rebuild.
Douglas said it's a tough decision for people to make.
"People don't want to leave the town that their families grew up in, and the town that they raised their own families in," he said. "To pack up and move out, you move everything, all this history and the memories you had, from the home you raised your families in."
Douglas said he hopes homeowners who plan to take a buyout will relocate in Essex County.
Reporter Chris Morris' reporting is courtesy of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. For more of his work, go to AdirondackDailyEnterprise.com.