Millions in federal funds could help flood victims

08/12/2010 12:00 AM |

Horton Avenue flood victims could possibly see some individual financial relief — that is, if the federal government approves Riverhead Town and Suffolk County’s applications for a $4 million grant to buy their flood-prone properties.

The town and county submitted three applications Monday — one joint application and one from each separate municipality — to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s hazard mitigation grant program. The identical applications each seek $4 million in federal funds to purchase land on Horton Avenue, said Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller. Dozens of people were left homeless in late March after a storm dumped more than eight inches of rain on the low-lying neighborhood.

Under FEMA guidelines, the town and county would be responsible for 25 percent of the total cost. Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town would most likely use open space preservation funds to cover its share.

“I think the only solution is mitigation,” Mr. Walter said. “Plant it over. Make it green space.”

Chief Hegermiller noted that the grant is extremely competitive and that Riverhead is up against municipalities from across the U.S. But the chief said he is optimistic because the issue has gotten a lot of attention from state and federal officials.

Six owner-occupied homes and a dozen rented homes in the Horton Avenue area were heavily damaged by the storm. The town and county would seek to relocate the families in the owner-occupied homes and to reimburse the owners of the rental properties for economic losses.

The Horton Avenue land, if purchased by the town and county, would be preserved as open space as persistent flooding has made the area unsuitable for any other use, said Shirley Coverdale, who sits on the board of directors of the Long Island Organizing Network, a group that has advocated on behalf of the neighborhood’sflood victims.

“In the end, I don’t think houses ever should have been built there,” she said. She pointed to environmental concerns such as flooded cesspools and runoff from nearby farms as further reasons the homes there should be demolished. “It doesn’t take much to imagine what kind of swill is in that [groundwater],” Ms. Coverdale said.

Hazard mitigation grants are available only to municipalities within a presidentially declared disaster area. In July, FEMA overturned its previous denial of New York’s request to combine the March 29-30 storm with a previously declared storm — a powerful nor’easter earlier in March — as one disaster.

Riverhead Town would have been able to pursue those grants anyway, but thanks to the new designation more money will be supplied to the state by the federal government, Chief Hegermiller had said.

Local governments must submit applications to their respective states for review. Once eligible projects are selected by the state, they are forwarded to the regional FEMA office, where they are reviewed to ensure compliance with federal laws and regulations, according to FEMA’s website.

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