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Demolition Begins On Irene Flooded Homes

WAMC/Pat Bradley

More than two and a half years after Tropical Storm Irene raged through the region, homes that were made unliveable are finally being demolished.

Waters from Tropical Storm Irene caused massive flooding across the region, swelling rivers to record levels. In Essex County, New York, 28 homeowners along the Ausable River qualified for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Property Acquisition and Buyout program. On Wednesday, two years and seven months after the flooding, the first of the homes was demolished.  “It’s begun the healing process for us.”

Town of Jay Supervisor and chair of the Essex County Board of Supervisors Randy Douglas says it has been a trying time for the town, officials and the residents that were flooded and those left behind.  “The red tape is so much. First of all to qualify for the declaration of the federal disaster. Then to qualify for a property acquisition program. Then to reach out to all the individual people that were flooded, all the evaluations, all the applications, all the permits. It’s just a long drawn-out process. And it’s tough on the families. The red tape is just too much. But it’s a great feeling to be where we’re at today.”

Vermont was also devastated by Tropical Storm Irene. Vermont Division of Emergency Management State Recovery and Mitigation Section Chief Ben Rose sees light at the end of the tunnel, but says there are still individuals and communities in recovery.  In terms of FEMA buyouts, about two thirds have closed and about one third of the demolitions have taken place.  “A buyout that’s done with FEMA hazard mitigation funds is sort-of like a real estate transaction on steroids. There are a lot of steps. Think about the process of closing on a home, with a title search and the negotiations, and all of those things. And then overlay the fact that it’s a federally funded grant program with a lot of conditions and a lot of boxes to check. Just waiting for the title search and for the buyout and for each of the steps to take place is time consuming. Then couple that with the reality of our short construction season, it’s easy for a couple of years to go by.”

Back in Essex County, New York, Town Of Jay Department of Public Works Director Chris Garrow notes elements of the time consuming process.  “There’s a whole process and the first process is to be able to get to the funding part of it. There’s dig safes that have to be put in, there’s beams that have to be put in, there’s electricity that has to be taken care of. There’s demolition permits that have to be taken care of. There’s finding where we’re going to take this material. The houses have to be gone through by a testing company to make sure there’s no asbestos or lead or anything else in them, so we have to dispose of that properly as well. Then lining up the equipment to get things done. There’s a whole lot to it. It certainly takes a long time.”

Supervisor Randy Douglas believes the buyout process is getting more streamlined.  “The Sandy victims on Staten Island, the process has seemed to be a little bit more on pace for quicker results. Maybe a year to a year and a half compared to our two, two and a half year process. When the state emergency management office came in they said right from the beginning it’s a two year process. A year should be the deadline. Two and a half years is just way too long.”

Essex County officials hope to complete the demolitions within a couple of months.

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