Chapel Hill News

August 26, 2014

Help possible for flood-prone homes

While there are no guarantees, officials say, the county is looking into federal money to buy flood-prone homes and reduce the risk of future storm damage.

While there are no guarantees, officials say, the county is looking into federal money to buy flood-prone homes and reduce the risk of future storm damage.

A few Ridgefield and Briarcliff neighbors are interested in selling their homes east of University Mall, said Matt Sullivan, the town’s legal adviser. Others who want to take advantage of the voluntary Hazard Mitigation Grant Program should let him know by Friday, Aug. 29, he said.

“There is potential money out there if folks ... would rather not deal with that anymore,” he said.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County Emergency Services will send a letter of interest to the N.C. Division of Emergency Management next week, Sullivan said. If that goes well, the county could submit a formal application to the Federal Emergency Management Administration by February. It could take another year to get an answer.

State officials notified Orange, Alamance and Durham counties this month about FEMA’s disaster declaration for damages caused during a March 6-7 ice storm. If approved, Sullivan said those counties potentially could share $4 million to $5 million.

The March storm cut power to about 463,000 residents in nine counties – roughly 30,000 in Orange County. State and local governments estimated the public cost alone at $26.9 million. FEMA issued a notice in July that it would pick up $11.2 million of that.

Chapel Hill got roughly $113,947 to cover the cost of the emergency response and debris removal, Sullivan said.

FEMA’s grant program pays fair market value based on a property appraisal at the time of the disaster declaration; in this case, the appraised value in March. Homeowners also can pay for their own appraisal if they disagree with FEMA’s decision.

The town, if it gets the money, would buy approved homes, demolish them and replant new vegetation on the land.

Residents who choose not to participate in the buyout should not see a difference in their flood insurance rates, Sullivan said.

The buyout also could boost Chapel Hill’s plan to resolve longstanding stormwater problems, said stormwater engineer Sue Burke. It’s important to identify sites that could benefit from the money before disaster strikes, she said, because that’s the only time those grants are available.

Chapel Hill has sought hazard mitigation grants before. In 2001, the town bought and demolished three Dickerson Court homes near Bolin Creek, as it passes under the Franklin Street bridge. A FEMA grant paid 75 percent of the cost, and the town picked up the 25 percent match using bond money.

In 2005, however, the town wasn’t able to buy and demolish 36 condominiums at Camelot Village across from University Mall on Estes Drive. Although the town had $2.3 million from FEMA to make that purchase, many of the condo owners, some of whom live out of town, did not respond to official inquiries.

Since the town needs all the owners of a building to agree before buying that building, Town Manager Roger Stancil had to return FEMA’s money. The complex has flooded since then, most notably last summer, when 68 of the 116 condos were condemned following a severe June 30 storm.

That storm also left several families without a home in Carrboro’s Rocky Brook Mobile Home Park on South Greensboro Street. Julie Eckenrode, assistant to the town manager, said Carrboro might be interested in using FEMA funds to improve stormwater controls and culverts at the mobile home park and in neighborhoods along Tom’s Creek that also flooded.

The decision largely would depend on whether the state covers Carrboro’s 25 percent local match to receive FEMA funds, Eckenrode said. The town doesn’t have the money in this year’s budget to pay the difference, she said.

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