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January 02. 2013 11:45PM

Conway officials set to meet with FEMA

CONWAY - Conway officials are hoping for better news when they talk with FEMA representatives and state officials this morning about the town's application for a hazard mitigation grant to buy out more than a dozen Transvale Acres properties that were heavily damaged in tropical storm Irene.

The news officials received last week was not so good, according to Earl Sires, town manager, who reported Wednesday that the expected awarding of the funds has hit a major snag. Sires said that last week FEMA requested historical reviews of some of the properties, and that town officials have been told that the official notification that the town has been awarded the grant might not happen until as late as June. He said that even if FEMA funds do come through, the town would have to wait until March for the Governor and Executive Council to grant final approval.

Sires said Wednesday that officials have been assuring people that the grant approval was imminent but now "the rug's pulled out from under them," adding that the property owners are "in dire straits."

Once the town gets official notification, the process of buying the properties could begin.

Sires said FEMA requested more information in October but had not asked for more since then. He added that Conway officials were told unofficially that the awarding of the funds would likely happen in November.

Sires said he hopes for some sort of resolution soon and that he is very concerned about the Transvale Acres property owners affected by the delay.

At stake is over $800,000, which would be administered through the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management division. The town would own the properties, clearing the lots of any buildings on them. To qualify for the buyout, the homes had to be previously occupied by full-time owners or renters. Second homes do not qualify.

The town was successful in its application for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) through the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, getting the word in October about the $266,000 grant. Those funds would provide the 25 percent local match required from FEMA.

Across the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln, town officials are still working to get the funding necessary to build a new bridge next to the Loon Mountain bridge, which was heavily damaged by the 2011 August storm.

On Wednesday, Town Manager Butch Burbank said the town has provided documentation to FEMA on the damage to the bridge and estimates for the cost of repairs or replacement. He said the town's engineers and N.H. Department of Transportation officials agree that a total replacement of the bridge is needed, while FEMA is initially leaning toward repairing the bridge.

"At issue," Burbank wrote in an email, "is whether or not the damage to the existing bridge is greater than 50 percent of the cost of a total replacement. If we reach the so called '50 percent rule' FEMA would fund 80 percent of the project. NH DOT would then fund 80 percent of the remaining balance and the town would be responsible for the remaining 20 percent."

Burbank said the town's engineer estimates it would cost about $3.2 million to repair the bridge and $6 million to replace it.

Last spring, selectmen decided to pursue replacing the bridge instead of rehabilitating it, saying that it would mitigate damage from future flood events. The new bridge's substructures would be underpinned with micropiles anchored deep into bedrock for scour protection.

In the meantime, the prefabricated modular steel Acrow bridge built across the collapsed span over a year ago will continue to serve those crossing over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River to Loon Mountain Resort and residential and hospitality properties.

In March, Lincoln voters approved $300,000 for the town's share of the Loon Bridge project. Burbank said officials are hoping the review process by FEMA goes well so they will be able to tell voters by this March or sooner what the course of action will be.

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Sara Young-Knox may be reached at syoungknox@newstote.com.


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