Feds to award $3.6 million for Horton Avenue disaster relief

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Horton Avenue flood victim turned community activist Linda Hobson (right) and her fellow Horton Avenue flood victims during a press conference on the block Friday. An expected $3.6 million in federal money will be used to purchase 13 properties on the street at pre-flood market value and turn the area into open space.

The federal government is awarding $3.6 million in grant money to provide relief to the victims of last year’s devastating flooding in the Horton Avenue neighborhood north of Route 58, officials announced Friday.

The money is coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said in a press release.

“The county has worked hand in glove with Riverhead Town, Congressman Tim Bishop and FEMA officials to see that the residents of Horton Avenue…receive the compassion and assistance they required to start a new beginning,” Mr. Levy said.

The money will allow local officials to purchase 13 affected properties in the low-lying neighborhood at pre-flood market value, demolish them and craft long-term flood mitigation measures to finally solve the persistent flooding.

Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said FEMA officials would almost definitely sign off on the paperwork Monday.

“This is a statement about the value of persistence,” he said. “In light of the discussion that is taking place, this is an example of government working.”

Town officials have said that if they were to receive the money, they would seek to return the area to open space, or if Mother Nature insists, wetlands.

For Horton Avenue residents Marie and Porter Trent, who have lived in their water damaged home since the flood, the news was bitter sweet.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value that can’t be replaced,” said Ms. Trent who has lived in the home with her husband for 50 years.

The section of Horton Avenue near the recently-built traffic circle has always been prone to flooding because it is at the bottom of a hill, and drainage from all directions empties into it, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said this April, around the anniversary of the flooding.

“For some of the houses, maybe it’s time they’re torn down, and we don’t put families in harm’s way,” he had said.

As the News-Review reported in May, the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership is proposing an affordable housing development in Riverhead Town that, with the county’s help, would be able to set aside new affordable homes for displaced Horton Avenue flood victims.

County Legislature Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who, along with Mr. Levy has worked over the last 16 months with Horton Avenue flood victims in an effort to get them any county help possible, called FEMA’s decision “the culmination of many months of work by many people at all levels of government.”

“With this funding, the Town of Riverhead will be able to purchase the affected properties and enlarge a town park while the residents will be able to relocate to higher ground via the county’s affordable housing program,” Mr. Romaine said. “This process demonstrates the good government can do when we all work together towards a common goal.”

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller oversaw the joint agency grant application process.

Last month, a group of Horton Avenue residents served Riverhead Town and Suffolk County with a lawsuit alleging that the municipalities were negligent in their construction and maintenance of the block. It was not immediately clear if the residents would pull that lawsuit.

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