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Smith Island buyouts removed from recovery plan

PRINCESS ANNE — Maryland has removed property buyouts on Smith Island from a Hurricane Sandy recovery plan.

Housing and Community Development Secretary Raymond Skinner told Somerset County Commissioners at a special meeting on Thursday that the department decided against the buyouts because of overwhelming opposition to the idea in public comments.

“The responses were overwhelmingly against the buyouts, so we are going to take them off the table,” he said.

The Daily Times of Salisbury reports that state officials submitted a final version of the plan to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday. The plan for $8.6 million in federal grants includes $6 million for housing rehabilitation on and $1 million for economic development.

The announcement was a surprise to commissioners and Smith Islanders.

“I wasn’t expecting that — nobody was,” said island native Eddie Somers, who phoned the news to someone back home and told them to spread the word.

Commissioners had asked state officials to remove the buyout option, but Skinner had said he wanted to leave it in to help islanders who wanted to leave. Commissioners’ written comment on the plan questioned who would take care of the empty properties on Smith Island. In addition to the burden of caring for the parcels, officials were concerned about lost property tax income.