Bishop optimistic FEMA help is on the way for Horton

VERA CHINESE PHOTO | FEMA officials tour Horton Avenue last year.

Almost exactly one year after the severe flooding on Horton Avenue in Riverhead, Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said he is cautiously optimistic that flood victims could see federal financial assistance in the near future.

Mr. Bishop met with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency last Thursday to stress the immediate need for disaster mitigation money — funds that would be used to purchase flood-prone parcels ­— as about a half-dozen families remain displaced.

“I think the chances of getting help or relief are pretty good,” he told the News-Review this week. “I told them my number one priority for [assistance for] Suffolk County has got to be Horton Avenue.”

In March 2010, a three-day storm inundated the Horton Avenue neighborhood with muddy brown water, soaking possessions, warping walls and creating a haven for mold in some homes. Residents were denied individual FEMA grants because not enough people in the region were affected to meet federal guidelines. So town, state and county officials had been searching for another permanent solution.

Realizing there is no way to prevent another such occurrence, Riverhead Town and Suffolk County submitted a joint grant application last year to FEMA’s competitive Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program. If awarded, the $3.6 million grant would be used to purchase the flood-ravaged properties at the market value before the destruction and return those parcels to swampland.

In February, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined Mr. Bishop in penning a letter to the head of FEMA, urging that his agency consider granting money to help Riverhead Town.

“Although the most recent disaster occurred in March 2010, serious surface flooding has occurred in 1994, 2004, 2005 and 2007,” the letter states. “The community has been grappling with the ramifications, including loss of property, structural damage and mold that has made some houses uninhabitable.”

Mr. Bishop said he expects FEMA to make a decision by the end of April.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller has said that money would be used to purchase between nine and 12 properties, some of which are still occupied.

The town has struggled for decades to protect the low-lying neighborhood. That effort has included a project in which 27 homes that lined the west side of Horton Avenue, near the foot of the natural bowl, were demolished or moved to higher ground between 1978 and 1986.

In the meantime, the Suffolk County Legislature has passed a bill giving victims of natural disasters like the one on Horton Avenue preference in the county’s affordable housing program. County officials are also in talks with the non-profit  Long Island Housing to select parcels for county subsidized properties for victims, county officials said this week.

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