Two years later, deadlines loom for Horton Avenue

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Horton Avenue and the homes that line the street flooded in March 2010.

Horton Avenue residents and local government officials have been waiting more than a month for an overdue set of appraisals needed to move them forward in a federal grant process that will aid victims of the devastating nor’easter that put much of the low-lying Riverhead block under water in the spring of 2010.

Appraisals of 10 Horton Avenue properties, being drafted by Maurice N. Perkins Company Inc. of Huntington Station, were due to the town Feb. 14. But only six have been filed with the town so far, town officials said. The delay means the town and county will have to “redouble [its] efforts” to make up for lost time and meet coming federal deadlines, said Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency grant will pay storm victims nearly $3 million in exchange for their damaged homes.

The grant allows the town to buy the properties from the residents at pre-flood values, demolish them and use the open space for drainage purposes. Horton Avenue residents will then be able to use the money to buy or rent homes elsewhere.

News of the delay prompted Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) to send a letter to town and county officials last Monday, reminding them that the June 30 deadline for the purchase of the damaged homes should not be missed. The purchased homes must then be demolished by Sept. 30, according to the federal guidelines.

“I am concerned that federal funding may be in jeopardy unless these deadlines are met promptly by the Town and County,” Mr. Bishop wrote, adding he would work to speed things up if needed.

But town officials are confident that despite the independent appraiser’s delay, the grant process will be completed in time.

Under the plan, the federal government will pay $2.24 million of the $2.99 million to be spent on buying and demolishing the homes; Suffolk County and the town will split the remaining costs. The remaining $600,000 in grant funds will be used to create a man-made wetland to prevent future flooding in the Horton Avenue area.

The appraisals of the homes, which will be used to determine their pre-flood value, were “more complicated than [the appraiser] originally thought,” said town police chief David Hegermiller, who is overseeing the grant process.

The appraiser, Maurice Perkins, could not be immediately reached for comment on the delay.

The six appraisals that were submitted to the town Monday were sent to the state for approval that same day, Mr. Hegermiller said. He added that he expected the four outstanding appraisals to be submitted “any day now.”

Mr. Walter said the town was “planning to stick to the time frames” and, despite the delay, could still meet the June 30 deadline to complete the purchase of the damaged homes.

He added that the county was still pursuing a subdivision within the town with the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership to provide housing for displaced Horton Avenue residents, many of whom lived in homes that are now inhabitable. The county passed a law last year giving residents who are victims of natural disaster preference in the county’s affordable housing program.

But Mr. Walter said that the town would likely have to move forward with the FEMA grant before the subdivision is complete to meet the federally mandated deadlines in June and September.

“I think that subdivision gets done regardless of our actions in this situation,” he said. “We don’t have time to wait for that subdivision to be done.”

State Assemblyman Dan Losquadro (R-Shoreham) said he could not discuss the progress of the new housing due to ongoing negotiations between the county and the Long Island Housing Partnership, but said he would make sure the grant appraisals were moved through the state in time for the June 30 deadline.

“As soon as [the town] makes that submission we will absolutely make sure that application is fast-tracked,” Mr. Losquadro said. “None of us wants to have to ask for an extension on that deadline. Everyone is dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s here.”

Linda Hobson, a resident of Horton Avenue and advocate for victims of the flood, said the proposed subdivision would be key for the well-being of those who were forced to move from their homes.

“We can’t expect people to give up their home without having another house to go to,” she said. Residents will meet with LIHP officials this week to discuss the potential subdivision for victims of the flood.

Ms. Hobson also said she’d like to work with the town to accommodate the needs of the residents, including one man living at the end of the damaged street who said he doesn’t want to leave and wishes to use the hazard mitigation money to renovate his home to make it safer against floods.

“Everybody is certainly ready and willing to work together,” she said. “I think we’re in pretty good shape right now.”

Ms. Hobson also noted that in December the residents deferred a lawsuit that was filed against the town and county.

Mr. Hegermiller said that while the delay in the appraisal process was not the first snag in the Horton Avenue saga, he was also confident the town, county and residents would complete the process by the deadline.

“If you look at the whole scheme of things, we were approved [for the FEMA grant] on Oct. 14,” he said. “We didn’t have our kickoff meeting until Nov. 17. We were already 30 days behind the eight ball there. But I’m optimistic that it’ll be on course.”

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