Bridgeville’s Baldwin Street flood-control project won’t begin for at least a few years—if it ever begins at all.
But talk of the borough acquiring private land to reshape the Baldwin Street/Bower Hill Road corridor has some residents concerned about receiving lowball offers for their property or being forced out through eminent domain.
Council president Mike Tolmer last week told residents that, if Bridgeville secures funding and moves forward with the $30 million plan, the borough would acquire property from willing sellers, rather than land from people who do not want to leave.
“I want to make that very clear that the way the plan is set up—as property became available for sale, it would be purchased. This isn’t a plan that we’re looking to do in a year or two. This is over the course of many years.”
Financing for property acquisition could come from a variety of sources, said borough solicitor Thomas McDermott, including federal programs that prohibit the use of eminent domain.
FEMA-funded [PDF] voluntary buyout programs help local governments purchase properties at pre-flood fair market value, as determined by an appraiser. There is usually an appeals process is the property owner disagrees with the appraisal.
A program set up in New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy offers an example of how FEMA-funded buyouts proceed:
FEMA does not buy houses directly from homeowners. Buyout projects are initiated and administered by local and state governments with grant funding support from FEMA.
Additional federal funding may also be provided by the Community Development Block Grant program administered by HUD.
To qualify for federal funding for the acquisition of flood-prone properties, a state must create a flood mitigation plan, which is then submitted to FEMA for review and approval.
In its mitigation plan, the state identifies communities that have experienced losses due to repetitive flooding and, once the plan is approved by FEMA, notifies those communities that funding for property acquisition may be available.
Once a community has been notified that funds may be available for property acquisitions in their town, community meetings are held to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the program and to explore any issues or questions that arise regarding the potential buyouts.
Homeowners in eligible communities who are interested in having their property acquired by their community must file a Blue Acres application for a buyout and follow the steps outlined in the process to secure an offer on their property and begin to move forward, leaving their flood risks behind them.
The program is completely voluntary; no homeowner is required to sell their property or is forced to move because their home is located in an area subject to repetitive flooding.
Homes that are determined to be eligible for buyouts are purchased by the town at the fair market value of the property prior to the flood. The fair market value is determined as the result of an appraisal conducted by a certified appraiser using sales of comparable homes sold before the flood event.
Homeowners who disagree with the appraisal have the right to appeal within 30 days following a written offer.
The municipality must receive the property free of any mortgages, liens or outstanding taxes. Any debt connected to the property must be paid off and the amount of that debt is deducted from the amount paid to the property owner before the transfer is complete.
The State will conduct title searches for each property to verify ownership and to identify any issues that prevent the homeowner from giving the state clear title to the property. Any debts outstanding on the property are paid off through the proceeds of the sale with the remainder of the proceeds being paid to the property owner.
Once a property has been purchased through the Blue Acres program, the home is demolished and the land becomes public property, designated via deed-restriction as open space.