HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Ending the repetitive cycle of flooding-rebuilding-and-flooding is a priority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Acquisition, or "buyouts," of frequently flooded properties is one way to accomplish this goal.
"Unfortunately, funding for these programs is limited, and the demand for funds nearly always exceeds the supply," said Jack Schuback, the FEMA official coordinating the current disaster-recovery effort in Pennsylvania.
"Under the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP), local communities propose risk-reduction projects to the state," Schuback said. "The state ranks or prioritizes the proposals based on their potential to reduce future disaster losses and forwards the applications to FEMA.
"FEMA hazard mitigation officials then review the projects, ensuring that the selected projects are cost-effective and in accordance with federal regulations. If those conditions are met, and if there are funds available, FEMA funds 75 percent of the project. The remaining 25 percent is funded by the state and local communities," Schuback said.
FEMA funds projects based on the state's priority. Projects that are not approved due to limited funds are kept on file for the future, if and when funding becomes available.
After every federally declared disaster, FEMA creates an HMGP fund equal to 15 percent of what it spends on disaster relief. This fund is intended to pay for projects that will significantly reduce losses from future disasters. The money may be used for mitigation projects ranging from elevating a building to acquiring and removing property from a floodplain.
President Clinton on Sept. 18 declared Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Lancaster, Philadelphia and York counties eligible for disaster assistance after flooding from Hurricane Floyd.
"FEMA, in cooperation with the state, has agreed to accelerate the application-review process to reduce the potential for repetitive flood damage in Pennsylvania," said Schuback.
When a buyout is approved, the acquired buildings are moved or demolished. The land remains as permanent open space and is turned over to the municipality. Communities can choose to build parks or recreational facilities, erect structures such as pavilions and restrooms, but no permanently occupied buildings are allowed.
"A successful buyout requires property owners, local communities, the state and federal government to communicate, cooperate and combine their efforts to achieve the goal of a safer community," Schuback said. "It is a permanent solution. No one is ever forced to participate, but for many, it is the way to insure the safety of citizens and reduce future disaster losses."