Schoharie County storm victims still awaiting buyout money; Downstate victims reportedly getting theirs

Posted at: 10/04/2013 8:35 PM
By: Steve Flamisch

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MIDDLEBURGH -- After Tropical Storm Irene flooded their home with more than nine feet of water in August 2011, Marlene and Stan Towne took-out a 30-year mortgage on a new house.

Marlene will be 108 when the last payment comes due. Stan will be 114.

"I'll try to make it that far," Stan said with a laugh, "but I don't think we're going to make it."

In the hope of leaving money -- instead of mortgage debt -- to their three children, the Townes offered to sell their destroyed home on State Route 30 to the Town of Middleburgh as part of a post-storm buyout program.

More than 40 property owners in nine Schoharie County municipalities are signed up for the buyout, officials said Friday. The towns and villages generally demolish the damaged buildings and return the flood-prone land to nature.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimburses the towns and villages 75 percent of the property costs, while the State of New York agreed to reimburse the remaining 25 percent.

To date, none of the money has materialized.

PRIORITIES QUESTIONED

More than two years after the floodwater receded, and six months after the municipalities returned the first of two signed contracts, the state still has not released the funds, officials said.

By contrast, the state closed this week on the first of more than 300 Staten Island homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy, Reuters reported Thursday. Middleburgh Town Supervisor James Buzon bristled.

"I'm happy for the people there -- that they're getting some closure -- but something should have happened here," Buzon told NewsChannel 13. "They haven't even gotten to their first anniversary yet, and here we're after our second anniversary."

In addition to buyout money, the nearby Town of Schoharie is also awaiting $37,000 in state reimbursements for infrastructure repairs and the reprocessing of documents destroyed by the floodwater, Supervisor Gene Milone said.

"It's truly unfair," Milone said. "I had wondered about the standards that were set and being met for both the upstate communities and downstate communities, and that those standards should be equal across the board."

Schoharie Town Councilman Richard Sherman, who called the town a "shining example of the heart and soul of New York State" for its tenacity in recovering from the flooding, said the money is overdue.

"We need them to come through with what was promised," Sherman said.

CONTRACTS REVISED

In a twist, Superstorm Sandy is responsible for both the state's promised contribution and the delay in following through on that promise, Schoharie County Senior Planner Shane Nickle said.

The state is using some of the money it set aside for Sandy relief to assist the property owners affected by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee, Nickle said.

"Probably what would have happened if Sandy hadn't occurred is we could have been looking at homeowners getting 75 percent of fair market value," he said, referring to FEMA's portion of the reimbursement.

Peter Cutler, Deputy Commissioner of Public Affairs at the NYS Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES), cited the state's decision to help as the reason for the delay.

"Delays occurred when previously executed contracts from storms Lee and Irene needed to be revised after the State decided to assume the remaining non-Federal share of costs," Cutler said in a statement.

It was unclear why the federal portion of the reimbursement -- the 75 percent -- could not be released separately.

The e-mailed statement from DHSES to NewsChannel 13 did not directly address the Sandy buyouts, or why they were proceeding more quickly.

WAITING FOR HELP

Cutler did not say when the state would return the signed contracts to the nine Schoharie County municipalities, paving the way for their respective town and village attorneys to make formal offers to the property owners wishing to sell.

Nickle, the Schoharie County senior planner, said he could only make an educated guess.

"At this point, I'm telling people we're talking about something happening within the next six months," Nickle said. "We're not looking at another year, but hopefully by the end of winter, we'll have most of our closings done."

Marlene and Stan Towne, who are trying to sell their storm-ravaged home in Middleburgh, said they are eagerly anticipating that day.

"The only thing we have to worry about is getting the money," Stan, 84, said, adding that their $100,000 flood insurance policy did not cover all of the damage.

Marlene, 78, said she is most concerned about their kids.

"You think that you're going to be able to leave money to your children," she said. "We don't want to just leave them with a mortgage to pay off."



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