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State panel, in reversal, to consider homeowners for FEMA grants

Photo by Eric Sugerman

Flood waters cover Pebble Beach Lane in Westport's Saugatuck Shores section in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene. The state has reversed itself and said private homeowners in flood zones who want to elevate their homes can qualify for government assistance.

After initially cutting private homeowners out of $16.6 million in funding set aside for properties damaged by Superstorm Sandy in Connecticut, a state committee this week reversed that earlier decision.

According to the governor's office, home elevation projects will be submitted for consideration for hazard mitigation grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a $100,000 cap on the federal share per house.

The committee had announced in January that all of the $16.6 million would be spent on public infrastructure upgrades, and rejected all 94 applications from homeowners from Greenwich to East Haven, who had requested a total of $18 million to elevate their houses through the hazard mitigation grant program.

The decision not to allocate any of the money to homeowners angered officials in coastal communities, who had encouraged the owners to apply for help.

The state had reported 10 applications from homeowners in Westport, though the town said the number is 24 because of consolidation.

"Everyone is very upset," said Fire Chief Andrew Kingsbury said at the time of the initial decision.

No one mentioned that applications from individual homeowners would take a back seat to major infrastructure projects, he said.

"I'm certain that we wouldn't have spent the effort and time to submit these applications ahead of time if we knew that," he said.

In Westport, a project to repair a bridge in the Saugatuck Shores neighborhood near the Norwalk border was also in contention for funds.

"We certainly didn't want to do that in lieu of our residents," Kingsbury had said. "We wanted the funding to go to the folks that are affected by these disasters."

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday applauded the decision of the Connecticut Interagency Hazard Mitigation Committee to revise the state's allocation of federal hazard mitigation funds. He had asked the group last month to reconvene and reassess the initial decision after controversy erupted over the initial plan.

"I am pleased that the committee reconsidered their initial decision and took into the account the immediate needs of homeowners," Malloy said.

The committee's revised decisions include:

- Infrastructure projects, weighted for priority, will be submitted to FEMA for consideration, with an initial total cap of $4 million in federal assistance. Read Full Article 

- Acquisition projects will be submitted, in order of priority, for review with an initial total cap of $4.5 million in federal money.

- Home elevation projects submitted for consideration will have a $100,000 cap on the amount of potential help.

The Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security will contact municipalities to complete application packets and the benefit-cost analyses to submit to FEMA by the March 29 deadline.

Communities must have a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan in order to receive any funding through the program.

Malloy said that municipalities and homeowners, including those that have submitted applications to FEMA for grant funds, also should continue to review alternate funding sources, including the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery grant program. Some municipalities can also access possible funding though Small Town Economic Assistance Program.

Beginning this summer, the state's Shoreline Resiliency Fund will provide low-interest loans to homeowners planning to elevate their homes.

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