- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Town officials and homeowners from eastern Connecticut communities affected by a spate of naturally occurring failing foundations urged lawmakers on Tuesday to provide immediate help, warning municipalities and residents can’t handle the costs on their own.

Tolland Town Manager Steve Werbner likened the crisis to a major natural disaster, saying the time for studies is over.

“We need to start to address homes in need now to prevent further shrinking of our grand list and a build-up of unusable homes in our community,” he told members of four legislative committees focused on the issue. “Homeowners need help now. Many are not financially able to absorb the full amount of this cost and cannot get additional mortgages in many cases due to the value of the house being less than the repairs.”

In addition, he said, many have been unable to get help from their insurance companies.

Tuesday’s hearing attracted dozens of worried homeowners and condo owners whose foundations are crumbling. The problem has been traced to a Willington quarry that produced a concrete mix containing pyrrhotite, an iron sulfide mineral that apparently reacted with oxygen and water over the past decades.

“I’m frightened of losing my home, my retirement savings,” said Anne Derrig, who lives in a 12-building condominium complex in Vernon that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair. “We are hardworking people here. We do not want a loan. We need help. We need relief.”

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wants to spend $5 million to test home foundations so see if they’re failing because of pyrrhotite. He has argued that getting a better idea of how many people have been affected by the naturally occurring reaction could help Connecticut persuade the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide financial assistance. About 500 affected homeowners have registered with the Department of Consumer Protection, but the number is expected to be much greater.

Total costs for remediation could reach $1 billion, affecting 6,000 to 7,000 homes. Potentially 36 towns are affected by the problem.

Werbner, co-chairman of a crumbling-foundations ad hoc committee of the Capitol Regional Council of Governments, said his group wants half of Malloy’s $5 million to go toward testing and other half to cover immediate remediation costs for homeowners with the worst damage.

The group has proposed a $35 million remediation fund this fiscal year and another $35 million fund next fiscal year, capping the grants to homeowners at 75 percent of the cost or up to $75,000. He said some of the money might come from previously allocated state aid to municipalities.

Werbner’s group also is calling for an insurance relief fund, paid for with a proposed surcharge on residential and commercial policies statewide. The fee wouldn’t exceed $200 per policy for the next seven years. Insurers would then be required to cover up to $150,000 in remediation costs.

The group has proposed using federal housing funds and possibly small taxes on concrete and mixes to help create a revenue flow for the fund.

Those and other ideas are included in bills under consideration this session. Many people who testified Tuesday said they’d like to see lawmakers work with homeowners, banks, insurance companies and state and federal governments to come up with a solution. Some called for creating a crumbling-foundations czar to oversee the process.

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