The Mountain Times

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Pittsfield purchases four homes, to turn Irene wreckage into green space for town

PITTSFIELD - By next summer three destroyed homes along Route 100 coming into Pittsfield from the south will be under construction to become a town park.

The homes have served as a constant reminder, for both the town residents and the travelers along Route 100, of the devastation and havoc wreaked on the state of Vermont by Tropical Storm Irene. But with funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) towns across the state, like Pittsfield, have been able to buyout floodplain properties from residents whose homes were wiped out.

Last month the Town of Pittsfield purchased four properties for $498,000, with the assistance of Two River-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) which is helping to manage the 135 FEMA-assisted town buyouts across the state.

The purchases occurred within a month of the two year anniversary of the storm's destruction. "It's the complexity of the program, the inevitable delays in getting grants approved, getting all the paperwork in - which there is a lot of," Robert Ennis, grant administrator for TRORC, explained of the long wait the town has endured. "Nobody is happy with the timeline that we're dealing with."

This onerous process involved the owners of the properties filing applications to the towns who then turned in an application to the Vermont department of public safety where a commission reviewed the application and then forwarded the claim to FEMA. Only then, if the agency approved the application, did the town receive 75 percent of the property's value to allocate towards purchasing the parcel.

The remaining 25 percent is garnered from state grants and from the department of Housing and Urban Development.
"The program never makes people whole," said Ennis. "They've been through so much and lost belongings and had a two-year delay. In a lot of cases they're trying to pay for mortgages that they still have while they pay rent or pay another mortgage…  these two years were, for a lot of folks, financially very difficult."

Despite the slow process, thus far, Ennis is hopeful that many of these closings will be completed before the winter weather comes.
As for Pittsfield, they are wasting no time. "We'll have the bids coming in, hopefully by Monday, for the removal of the property, so we can hope to get them cleared by the time snow flies," said Donald Flynn a buyout coordinator for Pittsfield.

"FEMA stipulates that it can be used as a park or sporting grounds and you can put toilets on it. The town can never sell it and they can never put a house or a building on it," said Flynn, adding "I guess a park is easier to repair."

For the locations not able to accommodate a green space or serve as a parking lot, such as the fourth property purchased in the Pittsfield buyout, they must remain vacant.

When asked what the plans were for the fourth Pittsfield property, Flynn quickly responded "Nothing. The town may mow the grass, but that's all."

These former property lots will no longer house members of the community, therefore they will no longer generate tax revenue for the towns. "Raise the taxes on everybody else in town. That's the only alternative," said Flynn speculating on actions required to make up the lost revenue.