CBJ moving forward with avalanche mitigation home buyout proposal

CBJ Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau is moving forward with a plan that could lead to a buyout program for homes threatened by avalanches from Mt. Juneau.

About a dozen people attended a public hearing last night (Monday) on a recent report that recommended the buyout. Last year’s study was conducted by the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. It concluded the best way to reduce risk in the Behrends Avenue neighborhood would be to remove the most at-risk homes. The consultants said hillside diversion systems could be effective above the White Subdivision, but further study is needed.

CBJ Emergency Programs Manager Tom Mattice fielded questions on how a buyout would work. He said it could be funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. The buyout would be completely voluntary, and homeowners would get fair market value for their property – to be determined by the price of similar homes throughout the community.

“So if homeowners were interested in doing buyouts, we would determine the fair market value on a handshake, we would put together a cost-benefit-analysis, we would submit that to FEMA,” Mattice says. “If FEMA approves the grant funding stream, then we would come back. That grant funding stream helps pay for your move, it helps buy your new house, obviously. Once you’ve moved out of the affected area, they would remove the houses and structures, and then that land gets turned into open park space, permanently.”

None of the homeowners who attended the meeting expressed opposition to the city’s plan to apply for the FEMA grant.

Mattice says he’ll be re-writing the city’s All Hazards Mitigation Plan, and seeking approval for the changes from the state and federal governments. Once that’s done, the application process can begin.

Several homeowners declined KTOO’s requests to comment on the report at the conclusion of the meeting.

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