Salcha homeowners apply for sale of homes to government

Posted: Monday, June 27, 2005

FAIRBANKS - Flood relief officials are screening 116 applications from homeowners near Salcha who want to sell their homes, land and businesses to the government due to persistent flooding.

More than 300 properties are eligible for the federally funded Tanana River Flood Plain Acquisition Project.

So far $850,000 is available, enough to buy out four to six property owners. The Fairbanks North Star Borough is asking Congress for more money.

"We knew when we started this program that $850,000 wasn't very much, but it was a start," said Paul Costello, director of the borough's land management department. "The number of applications show that there's a real need."

The grant pays for property appraisals, hazardous materials surveys and removal of structures. Officials were not sure how many applications to expect when the application period opened last month. It closed June 15.

"When the government comes up and offers you a hand, I think people are leery sometimes," said Rod Everett, a realty specialist with the federal Natural Resources Conservation service. "We were pleasantly surprised by the number of people that were interested in the project."

Borough Mayor Jim Whitaker is asking Congress for $4 million more for the program. An estimated $15 million is needed to buy all real estate affected by Tanana River flooding.

Salcha neighborhoods sandwiched between the Richardson Highway and the Tanana River have been besieged by flooding for years. In 2002, President Bush declared a disaster in the area.

Ice jams blocking the river are the main cause of the flooding, though residents say the river is shifting east. People hardest hit by the Tanana overflow will be the first picked for grant money.

The government will offer fair market value for the properties, officials said, decided by appraisers.

"It would be as if they were preparing to sell to another private owner," said Karrie Shaw, borough land officer. "It's the same appraisal everybody else gets. If there's damages, that will obviously affect fair market value."

Residents will be able to choose an appraiser from a list compiled by the borough.

"If they don't want to sell it for that price, then all they have to do is say, 'No.' It's completely voluntary," Everett said.

Everett has been evaluating which properties will get the highest priority through criteria based on threat to life and property. Appraisals are expected to start in July with offers to be made in late August.

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