By ROB GLIDDEN
Residents whose homes were catastrophically flooded during Tropical Storm Irene got some good news on Friday from their federal delegation – the town will receive $2.54 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds to purchase 14 homes endangered by their position on the Pequabuck River flood plain.
U.S. senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, along with U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty, joined local and state government representatives on Roberts Street extension to announce the news.
“These FEMA funds will provide a permanent solution for the homeowners that chose to participate in the program,” Town Manager Robert Lee said at the podium, with the senators flanking on either side.
When it struck Plainville in 2011, Irene caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage to many homes in the Robert Street area. During discussions with the 24 impacted homeowners, 14 of them told Lee they hoped to have their homes bought by the town so they could relocate away from the flood zone. The town began to pursue a grant from FEMA to make this possible.
The grant allows the town to purchase all 14 of these homes, eight on Robert Street Extension, three on Norton Place Extension, and one on Milo Road. The program is completely voluntary and residents also have the option of using the funds to move their home to a higher elevation in the same general area or to move their utilities to a higher elevation. The homes that are vacated will be demolished by the town and the properties will become open space.
The press conference was held in front of a home belonging to Frank Iris, who was pleased with the news and said the home itself could not be salvaged.
“We’ve done so much work since Irene came through to try and get this rolling, so it’s great news,” he said. “I don’t have the money to bring this house back up to code, so it’s time to unload it.”
The grant reimburses about 75 percent of the costs associated with buying and demolishing the homes. To fund the rest, State Representative Betty Boukus has been seeking funding from the state level. Officials are optimistic that the funding will come through, although the plan needs to be approved by the State Bond Commission.
Blumenthal described the frequent flooding of the area as an expensive public health problem, noting that levels of E.coli skyrocketed after Irene deluged the street.
“What we have here is a perfect partnership that produced an extraordinary result,” he said. “Unfortunately, severe storms like Irene and Sandy are becoming the new normal, and we must invest now to strengthen our infrastructure and our communities to avoid future devastation.”
Murphy, who was just elected to the Senate in November after six years of representing Plainville as congressman for the state’s fifth district, recalled his visit to the street in 2011 shortly after the storm.
“The devastation to these homes was hard to describe,” he said. “These homeowners deserve a chance to relocate.”
His former seat in Congress is now held by Elizabeth Esty, who was also elected in November. She commented that dealing with the homes now was a cheaper option than inevitably having to address them again after the next major storm.
“It saves money, but more importantly, it’s the right thing to do for the people in this community,” Esty said. “This is when government needs to step up.”