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Sinking homes grant denied State has rejected Amherst application

Amherst has again been denied a federal emergency management grant to help pay for repairs to sinking homes, Building Commissioner Thomas C. Ketchum said Friday.

Ketchum said he has notified about two dozen Amherst homeowners that state officials turned down the town's grant application and will not be sending it to Federal Emergency Management Agency officials for consideration.

It was the second time the town's application failed to pass muster at the state level. Under the rules of the $50 million grant program, state emergency management officials select five entries for the federal competition.

"We knew we had our work cut out for us. I could tell from the eligibility requirements put forth in the grant that it was going to be difficult," Ketchum said. However, he added, "We're not giving up the ship. I treat this as a learning experience."

Following reports in late 2002 of Amherst homes sinking and cracking, a study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concluded that as many as 1,100 homes could be damaged -- many of them built in areas with problem soils.

The federal program offers homeowners 3-1 matching grants to help with the cost of repairs, meaning that for every $3 in grant money, the homeowner would have to pay $1. To be eligible, Ketchum said, the town needed to show that every grant dollar the government offered would produce at least the same amount in benefits to homeowners.

"It was a borderline situation. In the end we couldn't meet the cost-benefit requirements," Ketchum said.

The grant money could not be used to repay homeowners for repairs already made and was limited to homes where owners have not started repairs.

But Ketchum said it might take a "crystal ball" for the town to prove that the grants would yield at least the same amount or more in benefits, such as future costs that would be avoided. "Some of these homes may get worse and some may not," he said.

e-mail: tdolan@buffnews.com

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