Valerie Walden and her family have lived in a trailer parked in her front yard for over a year now. When Tropical Storm Irene hit the house on Western Avenue in Brattleboro, rainwater ruined the roof and floodwater swept through the home's foundation.
"It got thrown up and through the foundation of the barn and into the house and so on," Valerie Walden said.
With insurance talks going nowhere, Walden decided to apply for FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Home Buyout Program, administered through the state. The town helped her write the application and recently she got good news: approval from both the state and the federal government.
"I was elated," she said. "I was like, oh thank God; we don't have to spend another winter because we just don't know how we are going to do it. And he's like well, not so fast, the town has some concerns."
"It is a complicated issue," said Patrick Moreland, the assistant town manager of Brattleboro. "There are a number of factors to consider."
Moreland wrote the original grant in which the feds would give fair market value for the house and cover demolition costs. Even though it's been approved by the state and feds, the town select board stills needs to vote to accept it.
"Certainly providing assistance to a member of the community which has been harmed by a natural disaster is one factor, there are flood plain management issues to consider, and then in addition to that, there is also the very legitimate concern that any time the town purchases a piece of property, it diminishes the value of our grand list because it will no longer be contributing to the tax base," Moreland said.
Since Moreland is not on the board, he will not be casting a vote and would not speculate on how that vote will go. However, Walden says she spoke with members of the select board recently and worries some may vote no.
Reporter Adam Sullivan: Why did the town originally submit the application if the intent wasn't to approve it?
Patrick Moreland: At the time, we submitted the grant so that we can keep the opportunity available.
The state wants the buyout to move forward. State Hazard Mitigation Officer Ray Doherty issued a statement saying, "Accepting the FEMA grant for a buy-out would allow Mrs. Walden and her family to move on with her life... and would also help restore the natural flood plain, mitigating future flood risk to surrounding homes and nearby businesses."
Moreland says it's still the town's call.
"Word from Vermont Emergency Management and from FEMA since day one about HMGP has been it's a voluntary program and it is voluntary on all sides," Moreland said.
"I really hope that they see that this is just some kind of red tape issue and it is not really a matter of them going, oh well, we have changed our mind," Walden said.
On Dec. 4, the five-member select board in Brattleboro will meet to decide whether to accept the grant. A decision, no matter the outcome, that will have serious implications for a family still trying to pick up the pieces after Tropical Storm Irene.
Moreland admits this is new territory for the town. Only one other homeowner in town has gone through the home buyout process, but in that case the homeowner backed out.
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