Demolitions mark step forward for Horton Avenue, flood victims

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | An excavator clears debris from what used to be a Horton Avenue house Friday afternoon.

Linda Hobson stood near the edge of the street on Horton Avenue Friday afternoon, watching as an excavator lifted piles of debris into the waiting dumpster.

The house that stood on the property a few days before was gone now. The owners had left years ago, driven away after the house was damaged during the torrential rains that flooded the area more than two years ago. The house has been empty since.

Ms. Hobson, who lost her home in the disaster, began nodding her head as chunks of the house’s remains crashed into the dumpster.

“It’s all good,” Ms. Hobson said.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Horton Avenue advocate and former resident Linda Hobson speaks at the press conference to announce the demolition of the flood-damaged houses.

Demolitions began Thursday on the Horton Avenue houses damaged by the 2010 floods as part of a nearly $3 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to provide disaster relief to those who lost their homes in the flood.

The grant allows Riverhead Town to buy the properties from the Horton Avenue homeowners at pre-flood values, then demolish the houses once the properties are purchased and use the open space for drainage purposes to prevent future flooding, according to Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller.

Twelve houses will be torn down after workers complete asbestos abatement on the property, Cheif Hegermiller said. The last offer to buy back a home will be sent to the last resident remaining on the block this week, he added.

Those who rented homes during the flood were not covered under the grant, nor were any valuables lost during the flood.

Local government officials gathered at the site Friday to thank advocates like Ms. Hobson and praise the efforts made to help those who suffered from the disaster.

County Executive Steve Bellone said that the project was only made possible thanks to the combined efforts of the state, town, county and federal governments.

“Because of all that work, because of all that effort, I think what we have here is an example of a model of how we might be able to get things done in this region,” Mr. Bellone said.

Congressman Tim Bishop also praised the bipartisan work by government leadership.

“This is every level of government cutting across party lines to come together and do the right thing, and we all did the right thing.”

But Mr. Bishop and other officials all gave special praise to residents like Ms. Hobson and Shirley Coverdale for their continued support for the residents of Horton Avenue.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | (L-R) Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Congressman Tim Bishop, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, County Supervisor Steve Bellone and Councilman John Dunleavy at Friday’s conference.

“This probably wouldn’t have happened were it not for sustained and effective citizen advocacy,” Mr. Bishop said.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he was glad the project was able to succeed despite the bumps in the road along the way.

“There were an awful lot of fits and starts with this thing, but luckily people like Linda Hobson just kept hammering and hammering and hammering and sometimes that’s what it takes,” he said.

Ms. Hobson said people can use this example to learn “what we can all do together when we cross party lines and stop focusing on the politics of things and start to get to what’s in the best interest of the community and the people.”

“We did not always agree, but we always were able to come to the table and come to a resolution and that’s how we got to where we are today,” she said. Ms. Hobson, who hasn’t found a new permanent home yet, will be able to buy a new home soon through an affordable housing program, she said.

Horton Avenue residents said they were glad to see the abandoned buildings go, but some expressed sadness that their neighborhood would lose the homes.

Debbie Braunskill, who lives across the street from where the houses will be demolished, said she remembered seeing rowboats up and down the road after the flood.

Ms. Braunskill said she would like to see the land used as a park or expand the playground for the neighborhoods kids.

“Hopefully with this demolition here they’ll be able to make something nice out of it,” she said. “It’s going to be nice. Nice and quiet.”

Kanice Miles, a Horton Avenue resident whose basement was flooded during the 2010 storms, stopped for a moment in her SUV Thursday morning as an excavator tossed pieces of debris into a waiting dumpster.

The neighborhood is changing, she said, and while she was glad to see the eyesores go, she said she’d miss seeing the homes that have sat along Horton Avenue since her childhood.

“It’s all over,” she said, shaking her head. “It’ll never be the same. It’s like family leaving, but I guess it’s what we have to do.”

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PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Workers begin demolitions Thursday morning on Horton Avenue homes damaged in serious flooding more than two years ago.