Emotions ran high Saturday morning in a filled-to-capacity council chamber where residents who have suffered loss from Hurricane Irene were invited to learn about their options through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Mayor Ann Subrizi, Councilwoman Celeste Scavetta, and Councilmen Dominic Colucci and Diego Robalino presided over a meeting led by Sgt. Michael Gallagher, from the mitigation unit of the N.J. Office of Emergency Management (NJOEM); Michael Foley, Sr. Program Specialist for FEMA's Mitigation Division; and Alan Aldridge, a FEMA mitigation specialist from Mississippi who has been assigned to work with New Milford.
The purpose of Saturday's meeting was to discuss the acquisitions and elevations of some flood-affected properties through FEMA grants.
Due to the severe flooding caused by Hurricane Irene and the repetitive flooding since Hurricane Floyd in New Milford, Gallagher said that the NJOEM understands there is a greater interest by the municipality in FEMA mitigation grants, especially in regard to the acquisition and elevation of homes that experience repeated flooding.
Properties that would qualify for this grant are those determined by the local building inspector as substantially damaged. It is then up to the Mayor and Council to make the decision of which properties would receive the grant monies.
In issuing these grants, "The state is targeting 'severe repetitive loss' properties," Gallagher stated. He went on to say that New Milford has placed in the top 13 communities in New Jersey with repetitive and severe flooding. However, there is a limited amount of money available.
Foley informed the concerned residents, "There's not enough money to buy everyone out." However, not everyone in attendance wants to be bought out. The crowd was divided between people interested in having their homes bought out through the Blue Acres program, and those who want their homes elevated so that they can remain.
"I've been through this so many times I just want out," said Sharon Hilmer about her house, the home that she was born and raised in. "I just can't do it anymore."
But there are others, like Caroline Neglia, whose intention is to stay if she can. She and her husband, who grew up in New Milford and purchased their home on Hughes Road in July, were never informed that the house was located in a flood zone and, consequently, never purchased flood insurance.
Damages to her home from Irene are in excess of $40,000, but because she has no flood insurance she has received only $3,000 from FEMA for repairs.
"I don't want to leave," she said. "I love the neighborhood, I love my neighbors, and I would love to stay here if I can." She is hoping there is a way that her house can be eligible for elevation under the grant.
Although not everyone will qualify under this FEMA program, everyone can apply. Ultimately, it is up to the mayor and council, on advice from the building inspector, to determine which properties will benefit from receiving the grant.
"Your mayor and council will have some tough decisions to make," Gallagher informed the audience.
Subrizi echoed this, "It's very difficult to knock on someone's door and ask them, 'Do you want to leave your home?'"
Although only 5% of New Milford's homes (about 260) are directly impacted, flooding is a town-wide issue. To lose these homes would negatively impact the town's ratables and change the face of these neighborhoods.
In order for a property to be considered for acquistion or elevation, a town has to apply to FEMA on behalf of the homeowner. During the meeting a non-binding "Notice of Voluntary Interest" form was handed out to each resident in attendance. This form allows residents to express interest in having their property acquired or elevated. Once these forms are reviewed, Aldridge will visit the properties to gather more information.
If you were unable to attend Saturday's meeting and would like to complete a non-binding "Notice of Voluntary Interest" form, contact Borough Administrator Christine Demiris at 201-967-5044 ext. 7056.
NOTE: FEMA deadline for Hurricane Irene claims is Nov. 30.