The Federal Emergency Management Agency's top administrator, Craig Fugate, promised local and state officials Tuesday that the relief agency's efforts to help Fairfield recover from Superstorm Sandy won't end any time soon.
Visiting town to meet with FEMA Disaster Recovery Center workers and tour local properties devastated last month by the storm, Fugate told First Selectman Michael Tetreau and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, "We're not here for the short-term, we know it's going to take some years."
According to Tetreau, about 700 homes in town were damaged by Sandy, while six homes on Fairfield Beach Road were washed away completely.
More than 1,000 trees fell during the Oct. 29-30 storm.
"We don't provide long-term housing solutions," Fugate said. "We don't rebuild homes." Instead, he told local officials that FEMA takes care of restoration, but federal agencies like HUD can help with the more permanent redevelopment efforts.
Fugate said FEMA is there to work with the town to determine how to shore up its tax base that has taken a hit from significant property damage. It will not recommend, for example, that a municipality simply buy up all the damaged homes and take over the property.
"But where we rebuild has to be sustainable, it has to be resilient," Fugate said, so that when the next storm comes, the damage is easily repaired. "We need to look at both the immediate needs and scope, and what is the best strategy."
He said towns might decide it doesn't make sense to rebuild in certain areas, "if you're going to get knocked out again."
Fugate also said homeowners may be more willing to rebuild to FEMA tougher standards now that they've seen how more recently built or renovated structures withstood the storm.
Many property owners, Fugate said, no longer insure for a home's replacement cost, but simply the amount owed on a mortgage, and now find that they don't have the money to rebuild. "That's where the (Small Business Administration) comes in," he said. After a declared disaster, the SBA can provide low-interest loans to homeowners.
As he toured the west end of Fairfield Beach Road, which suffered the heaviest damage from Sandy, Fugate saw first hand the difference between those homes elevated and built to comply with FEMA standards and those that weren't.
"When you build for the environment you're in and the elevation, it's much easier to repair," Fugate said.
The FEMA Disaster Recovery Center is located inside the Fairfield Senior Center, 100 Mona Terrace, and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday until further notice.
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