Demo day finally comes for 2016 flooded homeowner
BATON ROUGE - Next month will mark four years since about 140,000 homes flooded in south Louisiana. It's hard to imagine, but years after the 2016 flood, many people are still working to get their lives back together.
It was May 2018 when 2 On Your Side first met Alicia Donnell. Then, she was frustrated about the recovery process that seemed to have no end in sight. Wednesday, she received a bit of closure when her flood house was demolished by Restore Louisiana.
The Baton Rouge property off of South Harrells Ferry Road is about .1 miles from the Amite River. The house flooded with three feet of water on August 13, 2016. The land has been with Donnell's family since before she was born and has had its fair share of disasters. The original home caught fire in 2007 and was rebuilt in 2008.
The back and forth about what to do with Donnell's flooded house continued for months and months. It wasn't until 2018 did she learn the house was built in a floodway and she would never be able to repair it and move back in.
"I had never heard of a floodway," she said. "I had to go look it up to figure out what it meant."
A floodway is an area where water is expected to flow. In 2016, about 580 homes flooded in a designated Louisiana floodway. It was particularly challenging for Donnell, who learned that federal dollars could not be used to repair or rebuild a home in a floodway. Pat Forbes, the Executive Director of the Office of Community Development has been with Donnell throughout the process.
"It's against the law for us to put federal money into rebuilding a home in a floodway," Forbes said. "The only way we could help people like Ms. Donnell was to get them out of the floodway by buying them out."
Donnell is one of 67 homeowners that are part of the Restore Louisiana Solution 4 Buyout Program. The program helps address severe repetitive flood loss. Of those 67 award acceptances, 63 buyouts have closed and 30 of those homes have been demolished, totaling $10,118,707 in disbursements. Donnell accepted the Solution 4 servitude option, where she sold the developmental rights on her property to the Louisiana Land Trust but keeps ownership of the land as open space. Also as part of Solution 4, two neighborhoods that have experienced repetitive loss are involved in the buyout process. There are a total of 82 homes in Silverleaf in Ascension Parish and Pecan Acres in Pointe Coupee Parish that are being bought and will be demolished. The state is rebuilding homes for those residents.
Donnell thought she'd never see the day where she'd be bought out by Restore Louisiana. It's taken almost four years to get to this point.
"I had numerous people say well, just move on," she said. "I had to look at them and say, move on with what?"
Donnell says even though her home won't be where it once stood, the family property will always be something special.
"This property will always be where I grew up, no matter what happens to it will always be where I took my first step - it's just home," Donnell said.
To date, the Homeowner Assistance Program has offered over $670 million in grant funds to about 17,300 homeowners to repair or reconstruct their homes. Restore says 96 percent of the projects constructed by the program are complete and 79 percent of the homes being repaired or rebuilt by the owners are complete. It's hoping to wrap up the repairs and reconstructions by the end of the year.
"Are we glad we got $1.7 billion in federal funds to help people get out of harm's way and get their homes rebuilt, absolutely," Forbes said.
Donnell is currently searching for a new home.