Carl Bloom Jr. shook his head as he crossed the threshold of his once-loved Nescopeck home Thursday.
“I wish the whole thing was bulldozed so I wouldn’t have to look at it anymore,” he said, gesturing to the debris left inside his now-gutted brick rancher from record Susquehanna River flooding in September 2011.
His wish to break free seemed within reach when he was added to the government buyout list from 2011 flooding, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency recently knocked his structure off that list because it’s not in the high-risk flood zone on new federal flood maps.
Bloom is not alone.
The owners of 40 properties in eight other Luzerne County municipalities have been removed from the September 2011 buyout because they fall outside the high-risk mapping zone, said Jim Brozena, an engineer consultant who is overseeing buyout requests for eight municipalities.
Another 33 properties in the eight municipalities were disqualified because they fell within the high-risk map zone, but did not sustain enough damage to justify the purchase under government guidelines, Brozena said. Roughly 150 properties were approved for the buyout.
Bloom said his only hope is a $25.4 million federal flood-recovery allocation to Luzerne County to fix lingering damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.
The county has been criticized for delays in releasing this money, but the county administration argues the pot of money is supposed to be treated as a last resort for projects that have exhausted all other attempts to obtain funding.
County Community Development Director Andrew Reilly said the federal government recently issued a notice strongly discouraging spending of the recovery funding on redevelopment in flood zones, which means more priority will now go to buyouts.
Reilly said his office couldn’t develop a buyout plan for the recovery funding sooner because the federal government only recently finalized which properties would be included in the buyout program supervised by Brozena and other municipalities that chose to handle those buyouts on their own.
He has invited municipal officials to a June 25 meeting to discuss their opportunity to submit more proposed buyouts for the county recovery funding. About 15 buyouts were submitted, but Reilly said he wants to see if there are more requests now that properties have been dropped from the other buyout program.
Buyout requests must come from municipalities because they will own the vacant sites and can never develop them, Reilly said.
Nescopeck already submitted a request to Reilly’s office for recovery funding to buy and demolish Bloom’s property, said borough secretary Stacie Kachurka, who is overseeing borough buyouts.
Kachurka said Bloom’s property has flooded several times since he purchased it in 1977, including first-floor flooding in 2011.
“We’re waiting anxiously to see if he will receive help. There is a no more fitting definition of last resort than Carl’s situation,” she said.
County council candidate Kathy Dobash also has urged county officials to use the recovery funding to help Bloom after she met him on the campaign trail.
Returning to the West Third Street property isn’t an option, Bloom said. He’s certain the nearby Susquehanna will revisit his first floor someday, and he can’t come up with the $98,000 a contractor estimated he’ll need for remodeling, which wouldn’t include repairs of the finished basement that used to be “gorgeous.”
His property was among about 300 properties included in a Luzerne County buyout program set up in the early 2000s to help riverfront municipalities that weren’t protected by the raised Wyoming Valley Levee, but that program stalled after 15 buyouts because federal officials didn’t provide the promised remaining $15 million earmark, officials said.
Bloom said he had flood insurance for 27 years, paying $300 annually, but cancelled it several years ago after the rates tripled following a claim on a hot water heater. He also questioned the value because he never had first-floor flooding, and flood insurance does not cover basement improvements, such as finished walls, floors, ceilings or personal belongings kept in the basement.
When he was added to the 2011 buyout and received words of optimism from officials, Bloom drained his savings to fix up another home he wants to buy from a friend outside the flood zone. For now, he’s staying at his mother’s and has salvaged belongings scattered at various locations.
“I’m just in limbo,” he said.