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Negotiations under way in flood plain buyout

December 17, 1997

Negotiations under way in flood plain buyout

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Sportsman's Paradise subdivision near Marlowe, W.Va., is anything but that when hit by a flood.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency figures the best solution is to buy out the owners of properties within the 100-year flood plain through its Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Berkeley County is negotiating deals with owners of the subdivision's lowest-lying properties, according to County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm.

On Monday, the County Commission met with 11 owners of some of the most flood-prone properties in the low-lying area along the Potomac River. Sheetenhelm said afterward that seven accepted the county's offer for their land, three wanted to negotiate further based on independent appraisals of their properties and one rejected the offer.

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On Tuesday, the commission will meet with nine others, she said.

County applications from across the state will go to the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services, which will review them in January and pick four to forward to FEMA, she said.

For those applications accepted by the state and approved by FEMA, the state will pay 25 percent of the buyout price and the federal government will pay the balance. The land would then become property of the county and any homes on that land would be demolished, Sheetenhelm said.

The land could then be transferred to the Department of Natural Resources, the county's Parks and Recreation Commission, or maintained as open space. Once purchased, Sheetenhelm said, the land can never be developed again.

The offers made by the county ranged from $2,500 to more than $40,000, depending on whether the land is raw or developed, Sheetenhelm said.

Severe flooding in the mid-Atlantic states in January and September of 1996 prompted the hazard mitigation program, which aims to reduce the number of federal disaster claims.

Sections of Sportsman's Paradise are as much as 21 feet below flood level, the lowest in the state, according to Sheetenhelm. Flooding last year severely damaged a number of the developed properties in the subdivision.

"We're taking the final offer prices and plugging them into the county's grant application. That application is due to the state by Dec. 31," Sheetenhelm said.

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