POINSETT COUNTY, AR – Property acquisition (buyout) is one of many forms of hazard mitigation. It is also the most permanent form. It removes people from harm's way forever. The City of Harrisburg initiated a buyout of four residential properties, which not only eliminated the cycle of repetitive flood loss and the financial burden associated with rebuilding after a flood but also gave rise to a widely used park – the L. Dana Collins Municipal Park.
In March 1997, Poinsett County was included in a federal disaster declaration resulting from severe storms and tornadoes (DR1162) in the State of Arkansas. The county took advantage of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) to initiate projects that would eliminate or reduce future risks. One such project was the buyout of four homes located in a floodprone area in the City of Harrisburg.
Buyouts are strictly voluntary. No homeowners are ever forced to relinquish their property. Removing floodprone structures from private ownership eliminates the threat of future damage and also eliminates health and safety risks for homeowners and public safety personnel. It also eliminates the need for emergency response services, subsidized flood insurance, and federal disaster assistance. As a mitigation measure, acquisitions provide a means of recovery that is more advantageous than repair grants or loans. It’s an opportunity for homeowners to at least partially recoup a financial investment in a property that has lost value.
In an acquisition project, the community buys private property, acquires title to it, and then clears it. The property, which is now public property, must remain open space; however, it can be used to create public parks, wildlife refuges, etc. but it cannot be sold or developed. In keeping with guidelines, the City of Harrisburg created the L. Dana Collins Municipal Park, named in honor of a local, retired farmer who volunteered numerous hours in landscaping areas within the city.
How does the acquisition project work? Homeowners don't apply to FEMA for a buyout. Buyouts are not part of the disaster application process and are not part of disaster assistance. An HMGP application is prepared by local officials – with input from the community and those homeowners with destroyed or severely damaged properties. The local officials will have been notified by the state of what the state's priorities are or other special restrictions decided upon by state officials. The state receives and reviews the applications and submits those deemed appropriate to FEMA for approval. FEMA reviews the applications to ensure they follow the rules, are environmentally sound, and are a cost-effective use of funds. Once FEMA gives its approval, the state begins the acquisition process. The communities actually conduct the purchase and title transfer. Then the buildings are removed or destroyed by the community and the land is cleared.
Total cost of the buyout project was $217,775.00, including $163,331.00 (75 percent) in federal funding) and $27,222.00 (12.5 percent) each in state and local funding. It provided a “win-win” situation. The homes which had been repeatedly flooded were removed, residents were moved out of “harm’s way,” and a beautiful park was created.
“With additional grant funding from Parks and Tourism we were able to get playground equipment, construct bathroom facilities, and a pavilion,” said Mildred Traynom, grants officer. “The park has a walking trail and the only skateboard facility in Harrisburg.”
HMGP provides grants to state, tribal, and local governments to implement long-term hazard mitigation measures after a major disaster declaration. The purpose of the HMGP is to reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters and to enable mitigation measures to be implemented during the immediate recovery from a disaster. HMGP is available when authorized under a presidential major disaster declaration, in the areas of the state requested by the governor. The amount of funding available to the applicant is limited and is based upon the estimated total federal assistance to be provided by FEMA for disaster recovery under the declaration. The program may provide a state with up to 15 percent of the total disaster grants awarded by FEMA. If the state or grantee has an approved mitigation plan, FEMA can fund up to 75 percent of the eligible costs of each project. The state or grantee must provide a 25 percent match, which can be fashioned from a combination of cash and in-kind sources.
Mitigation plans are the foundation for effective hazard mitigation. A mitigation plan is a demonstration of the commitment to reduce risks from natural hazards and serves as a guide for decision makers. The mitigation planning process includes hazard identification and risk assessment leading to the development of a comprehensive mitigation strategy for reducing risks to life and property.