Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commissioners set to ask for state and federal funds for storm damage

BROOKSVILLE — More than seven months after Tropical Storm Debby inundated west-central Florida with rain, there is still water in the front yard of James and Kathy Rousakis.

The couple hasn't lived there since the storm, but the standing water serves as a reminder of what wrenched them from the property on Rochelle Road, east of Brooksville, that they called home for 16 years.

They live in a rented trailer now off Grove Road, and the lingering effects of the flood remain as the retired couple pay their current bills, along with the mortgage on the house they cannot occupy.

"It's tough,'' said Kathy Rousakis. "We don't know what we're going to do.''

But some help could be on the way for the Rousakises and four other families whose homes were also flooded by Debby. On Tuesday, county commissioners will be asked to authorize sending grant applications to the state and the federal governments, seeking money to buy and demolish or relocate the homes.

The county expects to receive $675,525 from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which is intended to remove people from property prone to flooding.

In the case of four of the homes — located on Ramona Drive, Powell Road, Rochelle Road and Marchmont Circle — the program will allow the county to buy the sites and demolish the houses, alleviating any future property damage.

In some cases, the lots might be used for drainage retention ponds to alleviate flooding in low areas, said Cecilia Patella, the county's emergency management director.

A fifth home is a triple-wide manufactured home on Pow Wow Trail that would be relocated and elevated on a higher portion of the owners' property.

Mrs. Rousakis is hoping that the grant will be approved and provide enough money to satisfy the bank that holds their mortgage.

James Futrell would like some relief as well. A contractor who served as president of the Hernando Builders Association about a decade ago, he built his four-bedroom, four-bath home on Powell Road in 1996 after checking to be sure he didn't live in a flood plain.

Since then, the county's flood maps have been updated, and his property is in a flood plain, one of the many details included in the lengthy applications that emergency management officials filled out.

Futrell's is the priciest of the grants sought. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would pay out $392,149 if the grant is approved.

His application shows pictures of his pool enclosure during the flood, with no indication of where the edge of the pool might be, his kitchen island with 3 feet of water around it and his boat in his living room as the family scrambled to move belongings out of the rising water.

Patella said it is crucial that those who review the applications see proof of repeated flooding and the extent of flood damage when they consider approving the grants. She said if the commission authorizes the grant applications, they will go to the state and then to FEMA for a final review and decision.

That process will likely take months.

Only a few times in recent memory has the county sought out hazard mitigation grants to acquire property. In 2004, a new $200,000 home on Canopy Oaks Road, east of Brooksville, was destroyed by flood waters from the remnants of hurricanes Frances and Jean.

The county ensured no one would ever build in that spot again by buying the property through the same FEMA grant program.

In 2007, the county assisted a Tampa man who had bought a home in Weeki Wachee Gardens with the intention of reselling it. What he didn't know was that it had flooded repeatedly in the past, and he found he couldn't sell it.

The county used a similar FEMA grant program to buy that house for $490,000 and spent another $14,000 to demolish it.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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