Buy-out program moving at snail’s pace

By Al Showers WLOX NEWS


 It’s been nearly two years since Hancock County leaders announced federal dollars were available to move people living in low lying areas to higher ground. But it could take up to another year before that buy-out money is in the hands of flood weary residents.

“If you have your house flooded more than once, you really don’t want to stay there,” Pearlington resident Linda Gammage said. 

Hurricane Katrina swallowed Gammage’s Pearlington home leaving only a portion of the roof above water.

“We could have another Katrina come through here, and we’d lose it all,” Gammage said.

Fear of loosing it all again is why Gammage and many others signed up for the federal buy-out.

“If the government gives us a chance, I’m ready to move,” said Pearlington resident Leah Baudean.

Baudean said she’s beginning to think that chance will never come.

“About eight, nine months ago I got a letter saying they wanted to know if I was still interested, and I had to go up to the office and sign the paper. And I did that, and I haven’t heard from them since,” Baudean said.

“It’s a long process when you apply for these grants through FEMA,” said Kevin Ladner, who serves as Hancock County’s Flood Plain Manager. He admits the $10 million buy-out program has moved at a snail’s pace.

“The county had to apply to MEMA which MEMA approved the application and now it’s been sent to FEMA for their approval,” Ladner said.

The buy-out program is strictly for residents who live in low lying areas of the county. City residents can not participate. More than 300 people have applied, but so far, only about 111 have qualified.

“It’s in FEMA’s hands now,” Ladner said.

A FEMA spokesman said after reviewing the application, FEMA is now requesting additional information from MEMA.

“It’s big government; You have to remember that. And big government takes its time,” Gammage said.

Once the red-tape has been unraveled, residents still face a property appraisal process, and that could take six months to a year, or maybe longer. The state and federal governments will purchase as many homes as they can until the $10 million is gone.

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