Gov. Peter Shumlin announced today that more than a year-and-a-half after they watched their homes destroyed by the floodwaters of Tropical Storm Irene and other floods in 2011, three families have closed on the sale of their properties as part of the FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), completing the home buyout process. The three -- two from Bethel and one from Bolton -- are the first to complete the HMGP process and receive compensation for their washed out homes. HMGP provides federal funds for towns to buy properties in flood-prone areas to avoid future damage.
"These buyouts are one way that we are enabling homeowners to get a fresh start, while also getting structures out of harm's way from the future flooding that has become more likely in our climate change world," said Gov. Shumlin. "Although there has been a frustratingly long wait for the buyouts to begin, we have worked in partnership with FEMA to make this timeline much shorter than is typical of the HMGP program."
Federal disaster declarations from flooding events in 2011 made the funds available for communities to take steps to avoid future damage through infrastructure improvements and home buyouts, among other projects. A Vermont selection committee approved the first batch of applications in February of 2012, and FEMA signed off on the projects and buyouts late last year. A total of 92 property home buyouts in more than two-dozen communities have received final approval for a buyout to date.
"This has been a long process," Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Joe Flynn said. "Our mitigation staff at DEMHS has been working hard to shepherd applications through the federal system and their hard work is now bearing fruit."
FEMA federal funds provide 75 percent of the purchase of homes, and the state of Vermont provides the remaining 25 percent with Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds through the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (thanks to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grants and funds from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board). The 25 percent match is being made available to communities through the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, which is administering the funding. The funds are awarded to communities and then used to purchase the homes at fair market value.
"We are pleased to be able to provide $2 million as part of the state match for the federal funds, said Gus Seelig, Executive Director of VHCB. "This will assist those who have lost their homes in finding new accommodations and, in appropriate cases, will provide towns with additional public access to Vermont's rivers."
Peter Gregory, TRORC's Executive Director, praised those involved. "The state, the town, VHCB and our staff have all worked together to make these buyouts, the first of many to come, happen. We are very glad to be able to close at least one small chapter of the continuing story of Irene recovery in a way that precludes such future damage and provides the landowners with the best outcome we think possible," he said.
More than $13 million in federal funds have been allocated for home buyouts in Vermont. Buyouts on other homes are nearing completion and more closings are expected soon. Closings are anticipated to take place slowly but regularly over the course of the next several months. Persons with questions as to where their individual project stands can contact Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission at 802-457-3188.