With fallout from the devastation inflicted by two consecutive years of shoreline storms still visible in town, about 75 residents came to Town Hall Monday night to learn about grant options from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to raise houses in flood zones in an attempt to avoid future damage.
Gemma Fabris, deputy state hazard mitigation officer with Connecticut's Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, detailed the process of working with the town to get a 75 percent reimbursement for such projects.
"Many of you are here because your house has suffered damage," she said, or watched neighbors suffer property damage from flooding.
"One thing this program can do is it can assist in funding the elevation of a residential structure," she said. The key element, however, is that applications to join the program cannot be done through an individual homeowner.
"The municipality can apply on your behalf," Fabris said. "That is exactly what the town of Westport is doing by holding this meeting ... This is their way of reaching out."
But Fabris emphasized that reimbursed costs are those that fall only within the scope of work for raising a structure.
"You cannot do renovations at the same time," she said.
"In one sense it's free money, but it's also federal money," she said. "Therefore there are a lot of federal restrictions with the access to these funds ... They are very stringent (in requiring) that these funds go strictly to elevation and what is necessary, and only what is necessary, to the elevation of your house."
The works that does qualify for reimbursement includes"
- Disconnecting and reconnecting utilities.
- Excavation and extension of a structure's foundation.
- Installing support beams, lifting the house and setting it on a newly constructed foundation.
- Any required site restoration after the elevation work is completed, including relevant landscaping.
- Also, services for engineering and planning, surveying, soil sampling, debris disposal and construction of a new utility room if it is necessary.
The grant, which covers 75 percent of the cost of a house-raising project while the owner is responsible for the remaining 25 percent, also can reimburse reasonable living expenses if a family has to relocate during work. It also may cover the expense of elevating existing decks, porches and stairs, and asbestos and lead abatement.
"It's exciting, definitely" said Susan Farewell of Westport, who is considering a house-elevation project as a measure to prevent future damage.
"We just finished sort of cleaning up everything from Sandy, and to face more work seems daunting, but it just seems in the long run it might make more sense," she said, commending town officials for highlighting the grants program.
Steve Nelson of Westport also expressed interest in the program as a way to avoid problems caused by the last storm at his Harbor Road home.
"We'd be dumb not to," he said of raising the foundation.
The first floor was pretty much wiped out," he said of the damage inflicted by Superstorm Sandy. "We don't want to do that again."
"These grants can run fairly smoothly," Fabris told the gathering, provided people take care in providing proper information.
"They can take years if you have a thousand ineligible costs in there," she said.
Property owners unable to attend the Monday session can call Michele Onofrio at 203-341-5024 for information.