This home in Branford's Pine Orchard neighborhood was elevated to protect against future storm damage. Sam Stricker, the Branford Eagle

About a half-dozen shoreline communities have learned that none of their residents whose homes were damaged by Storm Sandy will be able to sell them back to the government or receive hazard-mitigation funds to elevate the structures.

The state Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security has sent out letters explaining that this decision was made because applications totaled nearly five times the amount of money available.

After a committee reviewed and ranked four categories of applications, it decided to use all the available money for infrastructure projects. “The committee felt that infrastructure would provide the greatest benefit to the most number of people given the limited funds,” division spokesman Scott DeVico said.

A total of $16.6 million was available through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for infrastructure repairs, home elevations, property buyouts and generators. This particular pot of money covered damages from storm Sandy and the February 2013 blizzard. There had been an earlier pot of money, $8.7 million, pegged to damage from Tropical Storm Irene.

There were 139 grant applications totaling $81.6 million. There were applications for 23 infrastructure projects totaling little more than $45 million; more than 90 elevation applications in seven communities totaling $18 million; and $8.6 million in buyouts was requested in five communities.

The committee ranked infrastructure No. 1, followed by buyouts, elevations and generators.

“We are not happy with that decision,” said Denise Savageau, conservation director and hazard mitigation grant coordinator in Greenwich. Greenwich had 26 homes that applied for elevations.

The town has sent a letter to the state division, which operates within the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, requesting a review of the ranking process and criteria.

“We believe the residents of Connecticut and the Municipalities who collectively spent thousand of hours and monies to compile home elevation and applications deserve an explanation as to why they were never considered,” the letter said.

That sentiment and a similar review was requested in a letter from the emergency management director in Westport, who further accused the division of misleading applicants “about the prospect of receiving aid.” [Westport letter.]

Westport had applied for 10 home elevations.

This  home in Branford's Pine Orchard neighborhood was elevated to protect against future storm damage.
This home in Branford's Pine Orchard neighborhood was elevated to protect against future storm damage. Sam Stricker, the Branford Eagle

“No one anywhere is happy,” echoed Tom Ivers, in Milford’s Community and Economic Development office. Milford applied for 28 elevations and six buyouts.

“No one is getting any good explanation as to why infrastructure takes precedence over human suffering,” Ivers said. “There’s nothing like kicking people who are in despair. How could they not realize what they were doing.”

Homeowners who wish to elevate are eligible for low-interest loans through a shoreline resiliency fund announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in October. The state is also still processing home elevation applications through the Community Development Block Grant program as part of the overall Sandy allocation approved by Congress.

Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.

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