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Beach property owners in Texas fighting to get grants to save hurricane struck homes

The owners of hundreds of beach houses which were destroyed earlier this year by Hurricane Ike believe that they are entitled to money from the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant funds to buy their houses, but officials say structures on the public beach might not qualify for the programme, which is designed to save taxpayers from paying for future flood claims.

And property owners with flooded houses behind the seawall are seeking grant money to help them raise their structures above the base flood elevation.

The situation has been clouded by the rules governing the grants which state that houses that are bought out become public property. But if a house is on a public beach, the government already owns it.

It would be a waste of taxpayer money to pay for something the government already owns, according to federal regulations, Greg Pekar, the state hazard mitigation officer, said. State law requires houses that end up on the public beach to be removed without any promise of compensation.

Although many beach-front property owners say the government should buy them out as part of storm recovery efforts, federal funds have never been used to buy property on the public beach, Pekar said.

Now there is set to be an argument over which public beach boundary is be used to qualify property for the grant programme as it has moved since the hurricane. If the federal government says state officials must use the post-storm line of vegetation as the qualifier for the grant funds, none of the houses now on the public beach will qualify for a buyout. But if the state uses the pre-storm public beach boundary, almost all of the houses would qualify.

Pekar has told property owners that he has no idea how long it will take for officials to decide. Property owners are furious. They are continuing to make mortgage payments on property that might no longer belong to them.

They argue that before the storm they were not even on the beach. 'People who buy on the beach know they risk losing their property to erosion. But the houses now on the beach got there because of the storm which should qualify them for federal assistance,' said Jerry Mohn, head of the West Galveston Island Property Owners Association.

Owners now plan to petition the government to use the pre-storm beach boundary to determine eligibility. They estimate that about 1,500 houses were substantially damaged by Hurricane Ike. Property owners without flood insurance and those who own historic houses that are exempt from substantial damage assessments are relying on the mitigation grant funds to help them save their houses.