JOHNSTON, RI – After years of work to help flood-prone residents in Johnston, U.S. Senators Jack Reed an Sheldon Whitehouse welcomed nearly $4 million in federal funding to help homeowners along the hardest hit areas of Belfield Drive in Johnston who are now eligible for a voluntary property buyout through the U.S Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA NRCS) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program, which provides federal funding to help residents relocate out of flood prone areas.

The $3.9 million in federal funds are flowing to Rhode Island thanks to a coordinated effort by the state’s Congressional delegation to secure federal support for the community, which has been hit repeatedly by major flooding along the Pocasset River and its watershed.  Under the EWP program, the federal government will pay for 75 percent of the buyouts and the Town of Johnston will be responsible for the other 25 percent (roughly $1.3 million if all property owners decide to participate).

Persistent flooding issues along Belfield Drive have long plagued local residents.  A major rain storm in January caused extreme flooding that cut off access to several area homes for several weeks, necessitating shuttle service for residents by the local fire department using military-grade Humvees to get through several feet of water.  When the area became inaccessible to even these emergency vehicles, a federal agreement was reached to create a temporary emergency access road off the I-295 shoulder to ensure access to food, fuel, and emergency services to local residents hit by the flooding.

“This federal funding is a lifeline for homeowners who have faced real hardship due to persistent flooding and welcome news for the Town of Johnston.  I hope this federal aid will provide financial relief to families who wish to relocate and help ensure they get a fair price for their property.  This voluntary buyout program will improve public safety, save taxpayers money in the long run, and raze these properties and return the land to its natural state, which help with flood mitigation,” said Senator Reed.

“The residents of Belfield Drive and the town of Johnston have been through a lot because of the frequent flooding in this neighborhood,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “Federal funding puts a new option on the table for residents, allowing families to sell their homes at fair market value and relocate if they choose to do so.”

Over the years, Senators Reed and Whitehouse have worked closely with local, state, and federal officials, including Johnston Mayor Polisena, NRCS, and the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Districts to secure federal flood assistance for Johnston residents impacted by major flooding.

The next step in the voluntary buyout program will be for NRCS and the Town to distribute information and applications to eligible property owners, followed by an appraisal process.

If property owners decide to sell through the federal property buyout program, the town becomes the property owner, subject to a floodplain easement. No other permanent structures may be built on the land within the floodplain easement, and it must remain forever “green” in accordance with NRCS regulations.