Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Metro plans buyouts for flood-damaged homes

Metro officials are working on a plan that would allow the government to buy damaged homes under a federal program the city had been using to clear flood-prone areas. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city will submit a list of flood-damaged homes that may be eligible to be purchased under the federal hazard mitigation program. But Sonia Harvat, spokeswoman for Metro Water Services, which has administered the program, cautioned that it was too soon to know which homes would be eligible for the buyout program. Before this month's historic flooding, Metro had taken advantage of the FEMA buyout program to purchase 54 homes over the last five years in areas that have persistent problems with flooding. Harvat pointed out that those 54 homes all would have been subject to serious flood damage had the city not taken advantage of the buyout program. Mayor Karl Dean has been working on developing an aggressive buyout program for the last 10 days, according to his spokeswoman Janel Lacy. "This would be more than simply expanding the buyout program Metro Water has been operating for the last several years," Lacy said. "This is a whole new situation where a number of homes have been severely damaged. Some are uninhabitable or in danger of being flooded again. "The mayor's goal is twofold: to ensure that people are safe and to develop the best program for helping people rebuild their lives. This needs to be done in a thoughtful way, and we're working to do that." The federal mitigation funds, which go through the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, would be available to residents throughout the state, said Jeremy Heidt, a TEMA spokesman. Officials discuss criteria The general purpose of the existing buyout program is to purchase properties subject to recurring flood damage. Metro Water officials met with FEMA on Monday to discuss the criteria for submitting an initial list of homes. The buyout program requires the local government to pay for 25 percent of purchasing a property at its pre-flood value, with the federal government paying the remaining 75 percent. "We want to get as many submitted as quickly as they can," Harvat said. "The ones that we feel can be approved as quickly as possible are the ones we'll submit." Waiting for an answer The program is voluntary, and property owners are not required to participate. Individual property owners may not apply for the program because the process requires the local government to apply on their behalf. But Metro Council members whose districts suffered the most damage say their constituents want to know sooner, rather than later, whether to begin rebuilding or wait for a potential government buyout. West Nashville Councilman Buddy Baker, whose district had dozens of homes seriously damaged when the Cumberland River spilled over its banks, said some of his constituents prefer to rebuild. "The ones that are wanting to get bought out, I hope Metro can help them," Baker said. The stormwater fee initiated last year by Mayor Karl Dean and approved by the Metro Council created a funding source to be used in part to purchase flood-prone homes. Harvat said it was premature to know whether the local funding would come exclusively from the stormwater fee or if other Metro funds would be used. "This is something that as long as that door is open and there is funding available, we are going to do our best to push that through," Harvat said. The program does not allow the government to re-use the land for any other purpose besides flood-mitigating open space. Harvat said a combination of inspectors from Metro Water, Metro Codes and private contractors were working to determine which homes might be eligible for the federal buyout.

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