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Sportsman's Paradise lots to be bought out by FEMA

September 16, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |
  • Donna Seiler, Berkeley County's code enforcement and litter control officer, measures property Friday at Sportsman's Paradise in Falling Waters, W.Va., that will be included in a Federal Emergency Management Agency buyout project for flood-prone properties.
By Matthew Umstead

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Much of the Sportsman's Paradise community along the Potomac River in Berkeley County is far from "almost heaven."

But recent cleanup efforts and government-sponsored buyouts of flood-prone property in the long-defunct subdivision off Broad Lane in Falling Waters have made a difference, said Donna Seiler, the county code enforcement and litter control officer.

"This house has been set on fire three times," Seiler said Friday while driving past the burned-out remains of a Scott Drive residence in the community. "It's time (for it to go)."

Other homes, including campers that remain occupied year-round, showed significant signs of decay. One camper was stripped of its siding, leaving the insulation exposed. At other lots, only well houses or concrete slabs remained.

The Scott Drive home is among a dozen structures that are expected to be removed as part of a federally-sponsored buyout project, Seiler said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency-backed Hazard Mitigation Grant Program project is on track to be completed by the end of this year, according to Seiler, who is coordinating the effort for the county.

Bids for the demolition work are scheduled to be opened Thursday. All that will remain once the demolition is complete are trees, and the property will join others that are regularly mowed, she said.

When the current round of the buyout program is completed, Seiler said 35 parcels are expected to be consolidated where possible and deeded to the county, which already holds title to several other lots at the site from previous buyout efforts.

"At this point, we anticipate 100 percent participation," Seiler said.

Sportsman's Paradise was initially a place for weekend visits and summer vacations, but slowly became a year-round community. Seiler estimated more than 20 people still live in the flood-plain area of the subdivision.

 The community is situated in one of the lowest lying areas of the state, with some properties having an elevation of 21 feet below the base-flood elevation, according to FEMA.

What makes the situation dangerous to the residents and emergency responders is the portion of Sportsman's Paradise in the flood plain can only be accessed by crossing the Winchester & Western railroad track at one point, Seiler said.

And there are only two structures in the vulnerable area that were built to the flood-plain specifications, she said.

"The ultimate goal is to purchase these properties that are in the direct line of flooding to protect our public and our emergency workers in a natural disaster," Seiler said.

A flood in January 1996 prompted FEMA to provide assistance to the state, leading to the development of the hazard grant-funded projects. The money for the project was a combination of grant and state funding.

While the current round of property buyouts, which started in 2009, is drawing to a close, Seiler said she already has moved forward to launch another round next month.

Seiler plans to hold an informational meeting about the buyout program, but said she has already been contacted by 15 people who are interested.

Ultimately, Seiler and county officials envision Sportsman's Paradise could return to being a recreation destination and possibly be the site of the county's first public access point to the Potomac River.

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