Thirty-three properties in Vermont damaged by Tropical Storm Irene and spring flooding last year have been deemed ineligible for federal buyouts.
That’s the latest word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose decision comes as unwelcome news to many this holiday season.
For homeowners like David Kaneshiro, it’s been a long 16 months waiting for word from FEMA.
Kaneshiro’s home in Jamaica was washed away in Irene’s floodwaters. Since then, he’s been renting in Weston. He and his family thought that – by now – they’d be back on their feet.
"We thought we’d have everything completed earlier this year and we could go on with something more definite," Kaneshiro said in a phone interview.
After a protracted review, FEMA ruled that Kaneshiro’s home wasn’t, in fact, in the town’s flood plain. Kaneshiro, 72, says the decision is very disappointing.
"Last holiday season there was light at the end of the tunnel, which FEMA just put out. So it changes our outlook for this holiday season," he said.
Vermont’s Irene Recovery Officer Sue Minter says the state will redouble its efforts to help homeowners like Kaneshiro who find themselves in a very difficult situation.
In Jamaica and elsewhere, Minter says the state is working with towns to provide FEMA with additional analysis.
"We’re going to try to help towns to appeal the decisions. There are several instances that we think merit appeals," Minter said.
The state says FEMA has denied buyouts for homes that were demolished for health and safety reasons before towns applied for the federal hazard mitigation program.
And Minter says in other parts of the country similar situations have been approved.
"If this is the case and we can present more information to FEMA, that’s our goal – to help towns and of course homeowners get the money that we think the program should provide for them," Minter said.
But FEMA spokesman David Mace says the state was well aware that demolition of certain homes, even for health and safety precautions, disqualified them for buyouts.
"FEMA certainly doesn’t like to play the role of the Grinch," Mace said. "But in the case of most of these homes, the fact that the homes were in fact demolished prior to an application being provided to FEMA simply makes them ineligible under the program’s rules."
Now, the state is trying to identify alternative funding to allow those buyouts to go forward.
Under the buyout program, FEMA pays up to 75 percent of a home’s value, allowing towns to turn property located in a flood plain into green space, to prevent future hazards.
FEMA has approved 81 home buyouts in Vermont. But none has received any money yet.
And there are several homes under historic and preservation reviews that are still being considered.
Here’s a list of the towns where FEMA has denied home buyouts:
Berlin (1), Braintree (1), Brattleboro (13), Jamaica (4), Newfane (1), Pittsfield (1), Rochester (4), Sharon (7), Westminster (1)