Last updated: February 19. 2013 5:46PM - 550 Views

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Municipalities still facing damage from last year's Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee now can apply for a share of Luzerne County's $15.7 million federal recovery allocation.

The earmark was meant to tackle lingering destruction not covered by prior state and federal disaster assistance or insurance, county Community Development Director Andrew Reilly said Friday.

If there's still a gap, that's where we may be able to help, Reilly said.

The money can be used for infrastructure repairs to sewers, streets and bridges; housing acquisition and demolition and economic revitalization in the most impacted and distressed areas.

The application deadline is Dec. 31.

A committee of county employees and at least one nonprofit representative will evaluate and rank the applications before submitting a recommendation to county Manager Robert Lawton, who will then seek county council approval.

At least half of the overall allocation must benefit low/moderate income residents, eliminate blight or meet other urgent needs defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provided the funding, Reilly said.

That doesn't mean individual projects that don't meet those conditions won't be approved. It's an overall requirement that the review committee must keep in mind, Reilly said.

Municipalities can seek funding to demolish privately owned properties that weren't part of buyouts.

Individual property owners can't directly apply to the county for funding, though Reilly said that exclusion may be lifted if the county and state determine there are still significant housing rehabilitation needs.

County officials had tentatively estimated $900,000 of the federal allocation would be spent on a 3-percent municipal match for roughly 170 buyouts of substantially damaged homes that lost at least half their value due to September 2011 flooding.

However, that money may be freed up for other projects because the state is expected to increase its buyout contribution from 22 to 25 percent, Reilly said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will kick in 75 percent of the buyout cost.

Reilly said he has no idea if application requests will exceed available funding.

My sense is we would be looking to fund as many as possible, but until the applications come in, it's hard to anticipate exactly what the need is, he said.

Urban: Taking too long

County Councilman Stephen A. Urban has repeatedly complained about the length of time it's taken to approve a plan and get the money to municipalities, saying a federal official announced the allocation in January.

To this day that $15.7 million hasn't been allocated to help communities. I think that's appalling, he told Reilly during Tuesday's council meeting.

Reilly said the federal government didn't approve the county's funding application until September. The community development office also had to allow time for the county and municipalities to determine which projects would be funded by other means, he said, citing the state's recent plans to cover the full local share of buyouts as an example.

There are a lot of moving parts to this. We're no further back than any other community, Reilly said Friday.

The funding was part of a $49.2 million allocation for Pennsylvania counties that received disaster declarations in 2011.

Hurricane Irene downed trees, damaged roads and flooded waterways in parts of the county on Aug. 28. The Susquehanna River swelled to a record 42.66 feet the following month during Tropical Storm Lee, inundating several riverfront municipalities.

How to apply

Municipalities can apply for funding under the heading CDBG-DR Application on the county website, www.luzernecounty.org, through the community development link or by contacting the community development office, 824-7214, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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