FEMA won't buy homes hit by floods

MERRIMACK – The federal government will not scoop up a handful of flood-prone homes on Beacon Drive – at least not anytime soon.

Ten homeowners in the riverside neighborhood want to shed their houses and relocate to higher ground, but last month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied their application to do so.

Resident Linda Duval said Monday that she hadn’t yet heard the news.

“We’re extremely disappointed,” she said.

After suffering severe home damage in 2007 when the Souhegan River crashed over its banks, a Beacon Drive contingent and the town applied in December for a federal buyout program, in which the government purchases their hard-to-sell properties.

On July 23, Town Manager Keith Hickey received an e-mail from Richard Verville, of the state’s homeland security bureau, saying FEMA had not approved the application.

Hickey announced the news at the town council’s meeting July 24, which he said has aired on the public access channel. He said he did not relay the decision to the residents because he wanted to learn more details about the denial.To do that, Hickey said he attempted to reach Verville several times by phone and e-mail during the last several weeks. After speaking with a Telegraph reporter Monday, Verville at last returned Hickey’s call.

Verville told The Telegraph that Merrimack’s application did not score high enough during a complicated evaluation process.

FEMA provided only “generic comments” on the submission, he said, including a request for engineer-certified first-floor elevations of Beacon Drive homes.

Hickey said that work had been completed and he thought the elevations were “absolutely included” in the town’s application; Verville told him Monday they were not.

Merrimack can reapply for the buyout program by using all of its current material plus the elevations and other clarifications, Verville said.

Asked why those elements weren’t completed originally, he said that the town officials were responsible for attending application workshops – which they did – and gathering all the information.

“Based on the number of applications I get, I can only review them to a certain extent,” Verville said. “Everyone I know in Merrimack, they were working on it right up to the end trying to get all the information, and there was a lot of work put into it.”

In addition to the elevations, Verville suggested that homeowners sign letters verifying their participation in the buyout program.

Hickey said residents had already done that but not on the FEMA letterhead.

Even so, Verville said, approval for Merrimack on first blush was a long shot.

“It’s unheard of that an application of that magnitude would be accepted on the first time it’s being seen at the national review,” he said, adding that property acquisition projects are particularly complex.

Hickey said he would send letters to Beacon Drive residents informing them of the denial and plans to try again before the Nov. 1 deadline.

“As long as we have the opportunity to apply for relief, we’ll do that,” he said.