The state of Vermont still has money available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy out flooded properties. Owners of undamaged properties that are at high risk of future flooding can also be bought out through the program.
However, the FEMA-mandated application process can be labyrinthine. Vermont Emergency Management joined local and county-level officials for a webinar Thursday night to help people in Lamoille County navigate the buyout program.
In a January newspaper editorial, Lamoille Area Recovery Network coordinator Sarah Henshaw wrote that nearly one of every ten households in the county applied to FEMA for help in the first three months after the July flooding.
Henshaw asked rhetorically, “Is there legal support for homeowners to help them think through and negotiate with the mortgage companies? I have not gotten an answer to that as of yet.”
Vermont Emergency Management is working with the Lamoille County Planning Commission to mitigate damage. The commission’s deputy director, Seth Jensen, said the mitigation work includes buyouts.
“FEMA has multiple arms and tentacles,” Jensen said. “And mitigation — where the buyouts come from — is a different arm or tentacle (from) the individual assistance and small business assistance (programs).”
The first step to apply is to contact the town manager, administrator or selectboard. The town will work with would-be applicants and with Vermont Emergency Management.
The buyout grants cover a wide range of costs, including a property appraiser whom the town must hire.
“If your home was damaged in July, the purchase price would be based on an appraisal from the day before the storm,” Vermont Emergency Management state hazard mitigation officer Stephanie Smith said. “That would be its value as of July 9. It’s going to take a while to get through the buyout process.”
Johnson town administrator Tom Galinat said that FEMA doesn’t make the grants difficult to obtain because it wants the process to be difficult. He said it’s because FEMA has to answer to taxpayers nationwide, not merely those in areas affected by natural disasters.
“Lean on us as much as you’re willing, because we can help get those boxes checked,” Galinat said. “Dealing with the library and the municipal building, I can tell you there’s a lot of boxes to check!”
Henshaw said she’s available to anyone in Lamoille County who wants to either look over the application materials or ask questions about filling them out. She encourages the community to either call her at (802) 730-9513 or email her at email@example.com.