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Hoping the government will buy your flood-prone home? The wait could be years

Water rescues at Lee’s Landing Circle

As flood waters continue to rise to near historical levels at Lee's Landing near Conway residents of the Waccamaw River community were making final evacuations with their pets the help of various agencies including SCNDR. Friday, September 21, 2018.
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As flood waters continue to rise to near historical levels at Lee's Landing near Conway residents of the Waccamaw River community were making final evacuations with their pets the help of various agencies including SCNDR. Friday, September 21, 2018.

Horry County homeowners hoping the government will purchase their flood-prone properties in the wake of Hurricane Florence are in for a lengthy wait, if the option ever becomes available.

After natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides a certain amount of funding toward hazard mitigation programs. One of the projects eligible for that money is property acquisition, according to Derrec Becker, spokesman for the South Carolina Emergency Management Division.

Under the program, sometimes referred to as a buyout, FEMA covers up to 75 percent of the costs with the other 25 percent covered by state and local government sources.

Any building located on an acquired property must be demolished and the land must remain public open green space forever, Becker said.

Becker emphasized that the acquisition program is not a disaster recovery program and could take up to three to four years before acquisitions are finalized.

“You don’t want it to be easy for the government to buy your property, and this program reflects that,” he said, adding that the buyout is completely voluntary.

Lenore Letellier wept over the rescue of her cats, and for the expected loss of her home at Lee's Landing Circle near Conway on Tuesday. Frustrated by repeated floods, the she says she does not plan to return after this flood.

FEMA spokeswoman Cheria Brown told The Sun News that acquisition programs are initiated by individual states, and there have been no such discussions between South Carolina and FEMA officials following the latest storm.

Becker said it’s up to local governments to identify areas where acquisitions make sense and set the parameters for proposals. Communities in Charleston and Richland counties recently participated in the program, he said.

If an application is approved by FEMA, homes can be purchased for up to predisaster fair-market value.

Conway resident Lenore Letellier said her home along Lee’s Landing Circle is destroyed after flooding for the third time in four years.

“The whole neighborhood is devastated,” she said. “Nobody is going to be able to rebuild.”

Letellier, who has lived there 14 years, said she would definitely agree to a government buyout if offered.

Horry County spokeswoman Kelly Moore said the county purchased some properties through this program after Hurricane Floyd in 1999, but not after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

County officials haven’t made a decision as to whether they’ll pursue this option after Hurricane Florence, but Moore said she anticipates having a discussion with county council about the possibility.

Councilman Dennis DiSabato said he didn’t have enough information about the program to make a decision, while fellow councilman Harold Worley said he wouldn’t support it if it required spending county taxpayer money.

David Weissman: @WeissmanMBO; 843-626-0305
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