Lusk – As dawn broke on June 4, 2015 the Town of Lusk found itself facing circumstances completely unfamiliar. The entire town North of 4th Street was under over 4 feet of water as the Niobrara River filled the ancestral flood plain and beyond during a freak flash flood over night. As the weeks and months went by and the water receded the damage to property was overwhelming. Clean up after a flood is a hazard from both a structural and a health perspective. It is expensive and often structures that seem okay on the surface are simply not suitable for recovery. This is where several property owners found themselves in the spring of 2016. As much as they wanted to repair their properties that had been damaged in floodwaters, it was simply too expensive, time consuming or overwhelming. The Town of Lusk stepped in with a solution. Using a Hazard Mitigation Property Acquisition Grant that is funded through FEMA and distributed through the Wyoming State Department of Homeland Security, the Town of Lusk was authorized to purchase damaged property that homeowners chose to sell and turn that property into community green space.
Multiple meetings were held in the early summer of 2016 at which Melinda Gibson from FEMA gave information to a group of interested property owners. Upon receipt of the information owners could decide if they were interested in potentially selling their properties to the town through the grant program. As the process began the State, Town of Lusk and property owners worked together to complete their paperwork and fulfill the information requirements to qualify for the grant. Once it was determined that some of the property owners were interested and their properties would qualify then the town had to follow all laws and guidelines for buying the property including an appraisal that determined the pre-flood property value to ensure that the town would offer a fair and competitive price to property owners.
The entire scope of the project grew to encompass five properties. The owner(s) of these properties voluntarily enrolled in and sold their property to the town of Lusk through the program. This was not an ordinance or law enforcement issue. Three properties have now been completed. The hazard mitigation process has included hazard assessments, asbestos abatement, demolition and cleanup. Multiple departments and town resources have been used to aid in the three year long process of this project, which is set to conclude at the end of this fiscal year, on June 30. The total cost for the project including property acquisition has been $297,675. This includes the in-kind match of 25% of total that Lusk is required to provide and the 75% funding that the FEMA program matches. This project was administered and overseen entirely by the Town of Lusk. It was made available after the area was declared a Federal Disaster Zone. Conditions of the grant include the restriction that these “green spaces” may not ever be sold or leased. They may not ever be used for human habitation or have a permanent “housing” type structure placed on them. Right now the town does not have any plans for the space beyond basic maintenance but may consider them for future green space projects.