Connecticut panel does about-face on hazard mitigation funds

Connecticut shoreline homeowners who were victims of storm Sandy and had applied for federal funding to elevate their homes or have them purchased by the government will now have a shot at getting some money.

Three weeks after a state committee determined that all $16.6 million available through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency – FEMA – would go to infrastructure projects only, that same committee reversed itself. About half the money will go for elevations, about a quarter for buyouts and the other quarter for infrastructure.

The turnaround comes after community leaders and other officeholders expressed outrage that homeowners had been entirely ignored. Many sent letters to the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, which oversees the money. Within days Gov. Dannel P. Malloy ordered the committee to reassess its decision.

Milford Mayor Ben Blake, whose city had applied for 28 elevations, six buyouts and a large wastewater treatment infrastructure upgrade, had even offered to forgo the infrastructure funds so homeowners could get some money.

“I applaud the committee for reassessing,” he said Tuesday. “They heard the concerns that, at least in Milford, the first priority is getting people who had been displaced back in their houses.”

Milford still will be eligible for the infrastructure funding.

But many homeowners may still end up without funds, or far less than requested. The state’s entire request for hazard mitigation was $81 million — nearly five times the money available. Home elevation requests alone totaled $18 million for about 108 homes in seven communities – also more than the entire pool of money. Under the revised plan, funding will be capped at $100,000 per home.

Westport Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury, who also serves as emergency management director, felt the redistribution was equitable. “It’s maybe a little fairer now so everyone has a shot,” he said. “You want to help the residents that were truly affected by the storm.”

But the requests still have to be approved by FEMA, which has strict guidelines and cost-benefit analyses.

“This beats the last decision by a long shot,” said Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau. His town had applied for 26 home elevations. “The last decision they didn’t get anything, which was outrageous.”

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