More than $5 million committed to Belfield Drive buyout program

Warwick Beacon ·

Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Jr.’s office announced more than $5 million in funding for home buyouts on Belfield Drive, the site of “persistent flooding issues.”

Now it’s up to the homeowners. Will they stay or sell?

“Seeing Belfield Drive submerged under water was surreal — it resembled a lake instead of solid ground,” Polisena said. “Our plan is clear: demolish homes, build detention ponds, and reroute water to prevent such incidents.”

Polisena’s Deputy Chief of Staff Dominique Turner circulated a press release Monday morning announcing a $5,171,587.03 funding commitment from the town and federal government.

The mayor’s office “successfully secured federal funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to address persistent flooding issues on Belfield Drive,” according to the press release. “The federal government has approved the Town of Johnston's application for funding to purchase several homes on Belfield Drive, where residents have long been affected by flooding, leading to severe public safety risks and relentless accessibility issues.”

According to the mayor’s office, the following Belfield Drive addresses are eligible to participate in this one-time federal buyback program: 51, 62, 63, 77, 78, 82, 87, 96 and 98 Belfield Drive.

Earlier this year, flood waters cut Belfield Drive off from emergency services and Polisena was forced to ask the feds for help. He needed permission to open up a fence along Interstate 295 for emergency access to the stranded homes on Belfield Drive.

The feds granted temporary permission to open up the fence and create an exit/entrance onto Belfield drive from the highway. It served its purpose and was eventually closed.

The ordeal cost taxpayers more than a half million dollars, for construction and emergency personnel staffing.

The federal money and town funds will be used toward “acquisition and restoration efforts, including demolition,” according to the press release.

“The mandatory evacuations in January proved how serious this is, with water levels reaching 40 inches, even our military Humvee vehicles struggled to get through without leaving our first responders stranded in the water,” Polisena said. “For these safety reasons, we had to mandate evacuations. These buyouts are an essential, one-time opportunity for residents.”

The feds plan to cover 75% of the more than $5 million buyout plan price tag ($3,878,690.25). According to Turner’s press release, the funds “will be allocated to the Town of Johnston as part of the agreement.”

“The Town will be responsible for the remaining 25%, amounting to $1,292,896.75, assuming every property owner agrees to sell,” according to the press release. “There will be a $40 million flood mitigation bond on the ballot in the upcoming November election. If passed by the voters, a portion of the proceeds from that bond will cover the Town’s share of the buyout.”

On a tour of the site earlier this year, Polisena said “eminent domain” may be an option if Belfield Drive homeowners refuse to sell.

“The use of eminent domain to take these properties is not ideal, and we encourage residents to take this buyout opportunity,” Polisena said in the press release. “The Town cannot spend more than half a million dollars for one neighborhood, while we have other major flooding problems in the town that have to be addressed as well.”

Polisena’s office expressed gratitude to federal officials “for their support in addressing the critical issue of flooding in our community.”

“These efforts mark a significant step forward in ensuring the safety and well-being of residents on Belfield Drive and safeguarding the integrity of the town's infrastructure,” according to the press release. “Residents affected can expect to receive comprehensive information from the Town of Johnston regarding the next steps and procedures involved in the buyout process within the coming weeks.”

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