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FEMA OKs Essex, Ulster County flood-property buyouts

Members of the public in Essex and Ulster counties have 15 days to sound off on a federal proposal to buy several flood-prone homes, many of which suffered massive damage in 2011 from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Dave Lucas reports.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is looking to secure 26 properties in Essex and 33 in Ulster that are located in 100-year flood plains. Both counties are in a "public notice period" - the feds have okayed a 2-point-7 million dollar buyout in Essex County, where Mike Mascarenas is Deputy County Manager. “We heard from FEMA that 26 substantially damaged properties were tentatively approved. We have to put it out to public notice, a 15-day comment period. ”

Down in Ulster County, emergency management director Art Snyder has asked FEMA to set aside $6.7 million to buy the severely damaged homes. Snyder explains property owners who decided to sell out submitted letters of intent last February to be included in the acquisition program.  Snyder says about two dozen buyout-eligible properties are in Shandaken, the rest are in Wawarsing,  Ulster, Kingston, and Olive.

Once the buyout is complete, the buildings will be demolished and the land classified perpetual "forever wild" open spaces. None of the homes have been appraised yet: Snyder expects the buyout to be complete by early 2014.  FEMA will cover three-quarters of the home appraisal value and demolition costs, while New York City's Department of Environmental Protection will cover the remaining costs for homes inside the NYC watershed.  Homeowners outside the watershed will have to foot 25 percent of the bill.

Back in Essex County, officials have submitted additional applications to FEMA - calls to FEMA were not immediately returned. 

Officials with both counties say the experience with Irene and Lee has helped them formulate plans and strategies to better prepare for the next weather catastrophe, whatever and whenever that may be...

Written comments on the buyout may be submitted by mail to FEMA Region II, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Leo O’Brien Federal Building, 11A Clinton Square, Room 742, Albany, New York 12206-5421, or by email to FEMA-R2-HMA@fema.dhs.gov.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.