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Date of Issue: February 04, 2009

FEMA-sponsored home demolition to advance

Holmes Beach is due to get a park on Spring Lake later this year — to the dismay of city officials, taxpayers and the residents who will lose their home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency placed a home in the 6800 block of Holmes Boulevard in its severe repetitive-loss flood program last August, and gave property owners Michael and Cynthia Rushforth a few options.

FEMA informed the Rushforths that they could tear down their home and build an elevated house, pay the highest of insurance premiums, or accept government money for the demolition and sale of the property.

The couple reluctantly decided to pursue the demolition of their home, a project that will be financed by an $819,000 FEMA grant that requires the transfer of the property to the city of Holmes Beach and prohibits any future construction on the site. The grant will cover the demolition, site cleanup and administrative costs and the leftover funds will go to the Rushforths.

On Jan. 27, the Holmes Beach City Commission authorized the mayor and public works superintendent Joe Duennes to proceed with the project.

While the city will designate the property as a park, city officials are as unenthusiastic about the deal as the Rushforths.

“We lose the tax revenue forever,” said Mayor Rich Bohnenberger. “It can never be built upon again.”

Public works superintendent Joe Duennes said the Rushforths purchased the property about six years ago, improved it and suffered no flood loss during their ownership of the site.

“The timing here is nuts,” Duennes said.

During a recent discussion on the issue, the mayor and commissioners wondered whether other homeowners might receive unexpected notices from FEMA.

“It’s crazy government,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino.

“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Bohnenberger said. “It doesn’t work.”

Citizens also have questioned the logic of the FEMA action.

“We have no business paying somebody $800,000 for a piece of property,” said resident Bob Lane, appearing recently before the commission. “It just seems to me a little bit odd.… They are getting almost twice the going rate.”

Lane added that if FEMA’s still in the market, he has a five-bedroom house for sale.

“These are my tax dollars too,” Lane said. “I find it unacceptable.… This is wrong.”

Bohnenberger emphasized, “It’s odd.… It’s not anything the property owners wanted to do. It’s not anything the city wanted to do.”