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2 Years On, Irene Homes Razed in Hartford

Hartford — Three Hartford buildings that were damaged beyond repair during Tropical Storm Irene will be torn down in the coming weeks and the space turned into parks — or parking lots.

The first of the structures, the former Quechee Associates real estate building situated between the Quechee Covered Bridge and Simon Pearce, is scheduled to be demolished “hopefully this week,” said Fred Hammond, of Hammond Grinding and Recycling in Canaan, the contractor for the job.

Altogether, six structures in Hartford eventually will be razed as part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program that is aimed at removing buildings damaged in natural disasters on sites that would continue to pose a risk to life and property if a new structure were built.

“The costs to repair these buildings has exceeded their value and they would continue to be in harm’s way because they are in the flood plain,” Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg said. “FEMA is interested in limiting the number of structures that are in these kinds of locations and a way of containing future costs is by purchasing these properties, thereby reducing the risk of future claims for damages.”

Rieseberg said it is a lengthy process from when an individual applies for assistance through the mitigation program to when the structure is demolished.

After an individual applies and the application is accepted under the program, the town appraises the structure and later purchases it, contracts to remove asbestos, if warranted, from the building and finally hires someone to take it.

The costs borne by the town are then matched by FEMA funds and the town receives a minimum of 75 percent of the associated costs, FEMA External Affairs Officer Don Jacks said. The remaining percentage is covered by the state or separate grant funding.

Jacks said the FEMA program eventually saves money.

“A dollar spent now on mitigation to lessen the damages the next time — will save four dollars down the road,” Jacks said. “(For FEMA) to come in and spend federal dollars to remove properties that have repetitive flooding and get them out of the way so that we don’t have to worry about them again, that will be money saved in the long run.”

The top criteria for a home to qualify under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is “repetitive loss,” Jacks said.

“If a property has been flooded time, after time, after time.”

Once the structure is torn down, the lot it occupied can never again have a house built on it, Jacks said, adding that the space becomes town property and can be converted into parks or sporting fields, for example. Rieseberg, the town manager, said officials haven’t yet decided what they will do with these properties. The owner of the damaged structure does benefit from the program, because he or she is paid the assessed value of the structure — before Irene struck — less the cost to rid the home of contaminants, such as asbestos, and the cost of demolition.

“We are planning on using it (the money) to build a new home,” said Bruce Conrad, whose home on Route 14 in West Hartford was badly damaged in Irene almost two years ago.

Conrad said he has been in a temporary living situation while waiting for the FEMA paperwork to be finished so he can begin rebuilding.

Hammond, of Hammond Grinding and Recycling, said he hopes to have the Conrad property and a neigboring Route 14 house torn down by October.

Irene ripped through Vermont on Aug. 28, 2011. Rieseberg said the structures should have already been demolished by now.

“With FEMA, it’s been a long and tedious process, and I can’t tell how much longer it will be,” he said, in regard to the other three buildings that will be torn down under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Two of those homes are located in Quechee and the other is in West Hartford.

Two additional Hartford homes will be demolished as a result of Irene damage, but their demolition will be covered by a Community Development Block Grant. Those homes didn’t qualify for Hazard Mitigation Grant Program because they aren’t located in the 100-year-flood-zone, said Hartford Community Development Planner Matt Osborn.

In preparation for tearing down the buildings that aren’t scheduled for demolition yet, each structure must be inspected for the presence of asbestos. A pre-bid walk-through for contractors will take place Aug. 23, according to a posting on the Hartford town website. The three homes already scheduled for demolition have asbestos.

Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster commended the FEMA program.

“We have buildings, commercial and residential, in places that we now wish we didn’t as the weather is getting more exciting,” he said. “The great thing about this FEMA project is money goes to the land or building owner so they can rebuild somewhere else.

“The most important piece is this helps reduce our risk in the future, (and) many of the places are right along the river and we will end up with some nice parks and some green spaces, which is a nice side benefit.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.