Grant gives Horton Avenue flood victims some closure

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.

Porter Trent and his wife, Marie, have lived in their Horton Avenue home for 50 years. Mr. Trent was patching his driveway, with a bucket of tar nearby and trowel in hand, when he heard the news.

Financial help was on the way for the Trents and the few other families who have continued living in their homes after a flood damaged over a dozen houses in the neighborhood last year.

Horton Avenue residents got word Friday that a $3.6 million federal grant will provide relief to the victims of last year’s devastating flooding in the area. The money is coming from the state Office of Emergency Management’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance Program, which is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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

For families like the Trents, however, the news was bittersweet, as it meant never having to deal with a flood again, but having to leave the place they’ve called home since the 1960s.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value that can’t be replaced,” said Ms. Trent, 75, who raised seven children in the home. She and her 80-year-old husband have spent the 16 months since the flood repairing the house, cleaning the yard and sanitizing everything that was in their basement as they awaited word from the federal government.

The Trents and their neighbors were denied a separate FEMA grant earlier this year and have since filed a lawsuit against the town and county seeking financial restitution. Now that assistance has arrived, flood victim and community activist Linda Hobson said the neighbors’ attorney would soon be meeting with the town, though she stopped short of saying they would drop the lawsuit.

“Legal proceedings were never our goal,” said Ms. Hobson, who worked closely with Shirley Coverdale and the Long Island Organizing Network throughout the process. She emphasized her gratitude to local elected officials, the media, LION and Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller, who oversaw the joint agency grant application process.

“It certainly has not been on our accord that we got this far,” she said.

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

Three-quarters of the grant will be paid for through the federal government, but the town and county must provide the remaining 25 percent. The matching $900,000 can come in the form of engineering, administration, permit fees and labor costs, according to deputy supervisor Jill Lewis.

Chief Hegermiller credited the town’s grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano, with helping to secure the funds.

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 flood.

Mr. Walter was out of town for a family emergency this week and could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership reportedly wants to purchase a swath of land off Doctors Path and build 10 affordable homes there, county officials said. About half of those homes would be reserved for Horton Avenue flood victims to purchase if they were interested.

LIHP vice president Diana Weir did not confirm which parcels the organization was pursuing, but said it is searching for a developer. She said the homes would cost less than $300,000.

County officials including Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and County Executive Steve Levy pushed for the affordable housing plan as an alternative in case the federal money fell through.

“We wanted to have a path forward just in case,” Mr. Romaine said.

Both Mr. Romaine and Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) acknowledged Ms. Hobson and Ms. Coverdale’s efforts in advocating for the victims.

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

Ms. Hobson’s neighbors seconded that notion.

“She’s been there,” said Ivory Brown, a flood victim whose vacant home was burned down by squatters after the storm. “My guardian angel.”

Although the news brings closure for the residents of Horton Avenue, the future is still uncertain for some, like Ms. Trent.

“I got a den and three bedrooms. I don’t want to move into something smaller than I have, but I don’t like living with a lot of water,” she said during a tour of her home, tears filling her eyes. “Maybe I’ll get excited when [my plans are] official.”

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