Rockingham buys Irene-damaged home, first of three
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | January 25,2014
PHOTO BY LEN EMERY
A house owned by Douglas and Shirley Earle on the banks of the Saxtons River that was destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene more than two years ago has been purchased by the town and will be demolished.
SAXTONS RIVER — The first of three houses on the banks of the Saxtons River that were destroyed by Tropical Storm Irene has been purchased by the town and will finally be demolished.
The town of Rockingham’s purchase of the house, owned by Douglas and Shirley Earle, comes more than two and a half years after Irene created massive flooding along the river.
The three homes on Route 121 between the villages of Saxtons River and Bellows Falls were flooded and knocked off their foundations. Firefighters had to rescue two residents from one of the other homes by boat during the height of the flooding.
Ellen Howard, Rockingham’s zoning administrator who has been handling the buyout program, said the Earle home would have to be demolished within 90 days of the town purchasing the property under the Federal Emergency Management Agency program. Under the buy-out plan, FEMA is providing 75 percent of the funding, and the town received a state community development grant to cover the remaining 25 percent.
Howard told the Rockingham Select Board Tuesday evening that there are holdups on the other two properties, including a lien on one home and a land gains tax issue on the other.
But in a follow-up interview Wednesday, Howard said she expected the issues would be resolved in the near future, but probably not in time for all three properties to be demolished at the same time.
Under the FEMA buy-out program, the land cannot be sold or reused for building. As for the Earle property, Howard said, the town plans to let the land remain undeveloped but would probably retain two of the driveways so residents could access the river for fishing.
She said the town wanted to save three trees on the Earle property, which was discussed with the potential bidders on the project.
She said all three Irene-damaged homes were built prior to zoning and flood maps. She said the homes were six feet below the estimated flood stage, and she said the town had photographs of some of the homes being flooded in 1974.
Howard said a recent bidding conference with contractors went beyond the guidelines of the program. Wells on the three properties must be capped and septic tanks must be removed, she said.
But she said final restoration of the land would have to wait until all three homes are demolished and removed.
Howard said the Earles have remained in Rockingham, and now live at the Rockingham Canal House.