LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — As many as 130 homes that appear to have been abandoned by their owners following Hurricane Sandy could be demolished as a threat to public health and safety, township officials said.
Officials from the township and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are walking neighborhoods to identify homes that pose a safety risk. The homes are being placed on a list, and township officials are working to contact the owners and lien holders.
“We’ve been identifying these properties and sending out letters so they can do something about it before we have to do something about it,” Assistant Township Administrator Michael Fromosky said. “We have to contact them because we can’t go driving around with a bulldozer, willy-nilly.”
In order for a municipality to be eligible for FEMA funding to demolish private structures and remove debris from private property, local authorities must document that debris and/or damaged structures constitute a public health hazard, FEMA spokeswoman Susan Solomon said.
Local authorities may then exercise right-of-entry to address the public health threat, Solomon said.
On Tuesday, Jack Jarvis, who owns a home on a lagoon on South Captains Drive in the Mystic Islands section of the township, said he saw a group of men walking on his street Sunday, taking photos of homes.
Jarvis said he has heard rumors of demands from the township that residents either repair and lift homes immediately or face demolition.
“I didn’t know what they were doing or why they were here. The township hasn’t really told us anything, and they’re over here walking around, taking pictures. People are scared,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis, 70, hasn’t abandoned his small home, but said he has thought about walking away from the home he has owned since 1993.
On Tuesday morning, he stood in what was once his bedroom, which is now a room without walls. An orange permit sticker is displayed in the window while Jarvis completes all of the work on his own, he said. Wires dangle from the ceilings and beams, and tools are scattered on the dusty floor.
Jarvis said he had only minimum flood insurance for $20,000. He has received $5,000 and is waiting for the rest. A small rollaway bed is pushed against the wall, neatly made with a small set of stairs pushed against it so his 4-year-old Westie dog, Bandit, can climb up and sleep with him.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do to me. I’m 70 years old. I live on a fixed income, and I don’t have a lot of money in the bank,” he said.
Fromosky said the township has been in contact with some of the homeowners whose properties are on the list. The township must follow FEMA guidelines, but Fromosky said the township can take action to complete demolition once a home has been evaluated using a demolition checklist.
“The homes have made the list because they are in disrepair. (They) haven’t received mitigation since the storm and haven’t received demolition permits yet,” he said.
The 19-point checklist must be completed prior to demolition of any structure, the document states.
“The last thing we want to do is go in and demolish homes. This is not the township or FEMA’s intention. We would like to see everyone go home,” Fromosky said.
Township Administrator Garrett Loesch said the township hopes home demolitions will be highly unlikely.
“The list should shrink considerably as we contact people and permits are issued,” Loesch said.
The homes are being evaluated from the outside, and no one can enter a property unless invited inside, Loesch said.
FEMA Public Assistance will coordinate the programs for demolition and debris removal and provide 75 percent funding, with local agencies responsible for the remaining 25 percent.
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