Federal program offers hope for Beach Road buyouts


June 3, 2021

A FEMA program might help Beach Road residents who want disaster relief funding to buyout their homes, but it will likely take several years before such a project could move forward.

Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management employees met with residents and borough officials last week and described FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities (BRIC) program, a federal mitigation program that would allow the borough to designate areas on Beach Road as landslide hazards. Property owners in zones considered hazardous would then have the option to get bought out. The borough would be responsible for 25% of the total cost.

“If you have three homes and the person in the middle says, ‘Yep, I want out,’ and the other two people say, ‘Nope, I don’t want out,’ and you as the community, for lack of a better word, sponsor that person as the eligible applicant, you can buy out that single home,” said BRIC program manager Rick Dembroski. “You are responsible for why you selected that home. You can do piecemeal groups.”

Steve Wishstar said his family is one of six in the red zone that want to move permanently from Beach Road. His wife Vanessa and two children have been living in a Main Streeet apartment since the fatal Dec. 2 landslide. Their home is below a crack in the bedrock near the ridgeline that is currently being studied by a geotechnical consultant.

“Having the crack above our heads and having two kids in the house, you want them to be able to ride their bikes on the street and we can’t really do that,” Wishstar said. “That whole road was fine ten seconds before the slide and then it wasn’t fine. You don’t want to find out it wasn’t fine for a second time.”

Prices for homes will be based on fair market value. Dembroski said it would likely take two to three years for the projects to reach final approval. Once approved, the borough would have 90 days to demolish the house and clear the property.

The state could also buyout homes through another FEMA program called the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program but the available funding is likely not enough. There’s roughly $4 million available for all the communities affected by the December storms, said division director Terry Murphy.

“I think we can do it with the BRIC, I really do,” Murphy said at last week’s meeting. “It’s going to be cost effective. You’re saving peoples’ lives by moving them out of a hazard zone and giving them some justifiable compensation for taking their property and allowing them to move somewhere else. It’s up to them where they go.”

All six families who want a buyout are living in temporary housing now. Knowing any potential buyout will likely take years, Wishstar said they’re seeking more permanent housing options for the time being.

“Since we’ve all decided not to go back we need to figure out some permanent options,” he said. “That’s just too long to live in limbo.”

The state is currently working on 32 projects associated with eight disasters going back to 2012. A board made up of myriad state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, municipalities and nonprofits decides which projects are approved.


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