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Buyouts OK'd by 30 residents

December 25, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARLOWE, W.Va. - It could be Sportsman's Paradise lost - or at least sold - for more than two dozen property owners of the Potomac River subdivision who have agreed to participate in a federal buyout program of flood-prone lands.

Berkeley County Commission president Jim Smith said Wednesday that about 30 property owners in the development have come to terms with the county on a sale price for their land in the low-lying subdivision.

That leaves about half a dozen who have yet to come to terms with the county. Smith said those landowners have independent appraisals of their land higher than what the county is offering based on its own appraisals. They have until Wednesday to decide whether or not to take part in the program, he said.

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The floods of January and September 1996 prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to create the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, aimed at reducing the number of federal disaster claims. A number of West Virginia counties are competing for the grants to buy out properties that frequently flood.

The development near Marlowe has properties as much as 21 feet below the river's flood stage, the lowest in the state, according to County Administrator Deborah Sheetenhelm.

"There are two places I think FEMA will buy out," Smith said Wednesday. Those are groups of contiguous properties with access to the riverfront.

"It should provide a real opportunity for recreation," Smith said, adding that one of the groups of lots has a boat dock.

The grant application will initially be reviewed by the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services before being forwarded to FEMA, Sheetenhelm said. If FEMA accepts the application, the federal government will pay for 75 percent of the buyout price, with the state providing the balance.

Any buildings on the properties would be demolished and the land could only be used for recreation or open space.

Once purchased, the lands would be turned over to the county. Smith said the county would turn the land over to the Parks and Recreation Commission.

"I really want to get DNR (the state's Department of Natural Resources) or some part of state government interested in being a partner in developing it," Smith said of the land.

One roadblock to state participation is that the road leading into the subdivision is privately owned, according to Smith.

Not all of the properties are contiguous, or located in the most flood-prone areas of the development, Smith said. He said FEMA might not include all of the properties in a grant, if it is approved.

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