Ludlow Selectboard denies two FEMA buyouts

LUDLOW, Vt. – The Ludlow Selectboard met Monday, Nov. 6, for their regularly scheduled meeting, with discussion centering on continued fallout from the July 10 flood.

Town manager Brendan McNamara told the board that the Ludlow wastewater plant is now running at full capacity, but that it still needs significant repairs, as well as upgrades and flood mitigation measures. McNamara said that these mitigation measures could include moving the plant to a new location, though he felt that that was unlikely, as it would entail a large project and a significant expense.

Ludlow, Vt.

With regard to the FEMA reimbursement process, McNamara told the board that Ludlow’s damage inventory had been completed and submitted to FEMA for reimbursement, though some smaller issues continued to crop up that could be traced back to the flood.

McNamara also addressed citizens’ continued concerns about the Jewell Brook dam sites, one of which, site five, had visible damage to its spillway. Several residents came forward to voice concerns about the dams, and ask whether the town was prioritizing repairing them. McNamara informed those present that he has applied for funding through the Emergency Watershed Program for repairs to sites three and five, which would cover 75% of the expense of repairs, leaving the town with the remaining 25%. Total costs for site three were estimated at $46,000, with Ludlow covering $11,000. Site five came in significantly more expensive, with an estimated cost of $519,000, leaving Ludlow with a bill of about $130,000. The projects have now gone out to bid. McNamara said that the site three project was likely to be undertaken this fall, but that the repairs to site five would likely have to wait until the spring.

Significant discussion was also focused on proposed FEMA buyouts for four properties in Ludlow. The owners of the properties had initiated a process by which, McNamara explained, FEMA would essentially give the town funds to purchase the properties, though the purchases come with significant restrictions on how the properties may be used going forward.

“I am a little apprehensive about approving FEMA buyouts for multiple properties,” Acting Chair Justin Hyjek told the board. “No permanent structures can ever be placed on that [property], it comes out of the grand list, and it is undevelopable in perpetuity.”

Concern was also raised that two of the properties in question contained historic buildings, specifically 31 Route 103 (formerly Mr. Darcy’s), and 106 Main Street (formerly Mojo Café).

Reaction among residents present was mixed. Former Selectboard Chair and Vice President of Okemo Bruce Schmidt proposed that the board table the discussion, to determine what other options exist. “The town could buy them itself,” Schmidt suggested to the board. Disagreeing with Schmidt, resident and owner of the Timber Inn Motel Glenn Heitsmith pointed out that, while FEMA buyouts are not ideal, leaving the properties as-is or deferring the decision to a later date could lead to decaying buildings in town. “These places are going to look pretty bad if some action isn’t taken, so you don’t want to kick the can down the road or you’re going to have brambles, nastiness, abandoned buildings, decrepitness – you’ve got to act,” Heitsmith told the board.

Selectboard Member Robert Brandt asked whether approval of the process was binding, and would preclude another buyer from buying the properties. McNamara responded that another buyer could purchase the properties in the mean time. FEMA buyouts are typically lengthy processes, the board noted.

Ultimately, the requests for the former Mojo and Mr. Darcy’s were denied, wile the requests for 21 Route 103 (formerly Subway) and 91 Route 103 (formerly Sam’s Steakhouse) were approved.

Finally, McNamara gave updates on several other situations in town. Speaking about Shaw’s, Ludlow’s only supermarket, McNamara said he has been trying to get an official press release from the Shaw’s public relations department. While McNamara said the executives he has spoken with told him that Shaw’s is “100% committed” to reopening, the Ludlow location, no exact date has been given. Hyjek expressed concern that the Shaw’s building has not been worked on “for quite some time.” “I would very much appreciate if they gave us an exact date, or an exact plan, given that we’re almost five months out,” he continued.

Ludlow’s next selectboard meeting will be held Dec. 4, at 6 p.m., in the Heald Auditorium at Ludlow Town Hall.

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