Scores of residents whose homes have been damaged by Hurricane Sandy crowded into the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders Thursday night for an informational session with a Federal Emergency Management Administration team and Southampton Town officials.
The meeting, the first of its kind organized by a municipality, was organized by Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who contacted FEMA immediately after the storm and asked if representatives could come to the area and meet with residents firsthand.
"Last night's meeting provided a unique opportunity for property and business owners adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy for what I would call a one-stop shop forum for information," Throne-Holst said Friday morning.
Residents were afforded the opportunity to sit one-on-one with FEMA representatives and members of the town's building and engineering departments for immediate assistance and help.
The supervisor said while town officials feel regret that so many were impacted by Hurricane Sandy, "It was encouraging to see and hear the level of help I believe we were able to provide. Interestingly, the FEMA representatives said this was the most productive forum for reaching and helping people they had encountered so far. Perhaps we are on to something that will provide a model for communities like ours when trying to assist people in need after events of this kind."
Town officials present included Councilman Chris Nuzzi, Councilwoman Christine Preston Scalera, Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone, Chief Building Inspector Mike Benincasa, and others from the town's building and engineering departments.
The evening was divided into two parts: The first was a presentation by town personnel, discussing measures Southampton Town can take to help residents to recover, and a FEMA storm overview. The second consisted of break-out groups, where residents were able to meet individually with members of the FEMA team and directly address their personal concerns regarding property and other issues.
Benincasa told residents that any permit required to address storm damage, including damaged walls, windows, doors, and decks, will have no town permit fee attached.
Bulkheads, he said, are handled by town trustees; Throne-Holst said fees will be waived to address storm damage to bulkheads.
The FEMA team addressed the Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) program. Benincasa said residents with flood insurance could receive another $30,000 but would need a letter from the town; letters can be distributed at Town Hall while residents wait, he said.
Benincasa said homes that were FEMA compliant were, for the most part, "intact" after Sandy. He recommended residents take advantage of the ICC program and become FEMA compliant.
Some residents asked, if they wanted to raise the height of their home and spent, for example, $50,000 or $60,000, whether that improvement would be added to the value of the building, and what impact that would have on the tax rate.
Zappone said while he did not immediately have that answer, he would consult the town's assessor and address questions about property taxes.
Throne-Holst said the matter would need to be investigated. "That's state law," she said. "But it's a point well taken," she said. "That's probably a question people that have suffered this kind of damage are asking throughout the state."
FEMA representatives urged residents to reach out, ask questions, and avail themselves of all the programs available. But, they said, a Dec. 31 deadline to file for assistance is looming, so the clock is ticking.
Sarah Tippens discussed FEMA hazard mitigation grants; other FEMA reps explained flood insurance policies. According to Linda Delamare, who came to Flanders from Texas to assist residents, those with flood insurance are already paying for ICC assistance.
Some questioned whether second homes were eligible for FEMA programs; Tippens said it varied by state.
Also discussed were individual household assistance programs, traditional sheltering assistance programs, and an other needs assistance program that would help residents replace cars, furniture and other belongings lost in the storm; even purchases including wet/dry vacs and chainsaws can be reimbursed.
FEMA authorities emphasized that it is critical to apply for flood and homeowners' insurance, and FEMA aid.
The Small Business Administration's disaster assistance program, where residents can apply for a federal loan for personal property, was also discussed. The objective of the SBA, speakers said, is to retain a viable community after a crisis.
Finally, the countywide STEP program was also outlined.
Island Harvest representatives distributed food outside the meeting to the hungry.