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  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Preparation of land for a Habitat for Humanity home on Tonella Road in Milford has been put on hold as the lot may be designated as a wetland.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Preparation of land for a Habitat for Humanity home on Tonella Road in Milford has been put on hold as the lot may be designated as a wetland.
  • Staff photo by Don Himsel

    Preparation of land for a Habitat for Humanity home on Tonella Road in Milford has been put on hold as the lot may be designated as a wetland.
  • ANOTHER HABITAT HOME — The 'retired squad' members Dick Rothrock, left, of Morrisdale, and Glenn Anderson of Ridgway, help lift a roof joist Wednesday on a 28-foot by 40-foot Habitat for Humanity home along Church Street and Weber Avenue in DuBois. Project coordinator John Farr said this is Clearfield County's 14th habitat home. He expects it to be completed in March or April 2012. The home is bing built by volunteers from local local churches. Farr said the habitat organization is beginning to look for someone for its 16 home. That home will be started in Clearfield next summer. (Photo by Tom Bukousky)
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Site for Habitat for Humanity duplex in Milford may be wetland

MILFORD – Six months ago, Bob Hughes envisioned celebrating his 32nd birthday on July 23 in his own home, with his wife, Stephanie, and their children, Brianna, 13, and Jordan, 10.

Instead, the family is on the verge of homelessness.

The Hugheses were one of two families selected by Greater Nashua Habitat for Humanity to become owners of a Milford duplex the volunteer group planned to build. The other family is currently renting an apartment in town.

The land for the duplex, to be built at 42-44 Tonella Road, was purchased a year ago.

The lot was cleared of debris over the winter. And volunteers, including Hughes, were waiting for the go-ahead from a surveyor who was to tell them the best location to place the house and the septic system.

Families chosen by Habitat must agree to donate 350 hours of “sweat equity” to the construction of their homes, and Hughes, a handyman technician, was itching to get started.

“In April, we started cleaning the lot in Milford,” Hughes said. “Volunteers came once a week.”

When the lot was cleared, the brush pile stood 12 feet high, 20 feet wide and 30 feet long.

“It was frozen, and for weeks, we chopped, breaking it into piles, burning it and finally they got the surveyor in,” Hughes said.

That was when the bubble burst.

“We thought the surveyor would come in, get the soil tested and we’d be ready for the foundation,” Hughes said.

Instead, the surveyor raised some concerns about wetlands and suggested that the group get another opinion.

“The guy who sold Habitat the land told them there was a 25-foot buffer on wetlands, and the rest was buildable,” Hughes said. “What we found out was that it was all wetlands, and there was no place to put a foundation, absolutely no place.”

Recently, Greater Nashua Habitat for Humanity issued a press release announcing the Milford construction project had been put on hold because of “discrepancies” in reports from soil and plant experts.

But Robert Todd, of Todd Land Use Consultants in New Boston, said Richard Kohler, his certified wetlands scientist, reported tests show “the soil is saturated.”

“I surveyed the lot next door two years ago, and I saw a lot of wetlands,” Todd said. “I told Rick to be on the lookout for wetland conditions, to be forewarned.”

It’s a bitter bill for the nonprofit dedicated to building and renovating houses for families who need some help to become homeowners.

And it’s worse for the families.

The Hughes family has been without a permanent residence for three years.

In 2007, just before Christmas, their Hudson landlord said he was selling his house and gave the family 30 days to move out.

They put their belongings in storage and moved to Hughes’ in-laws’ apartment in Milford, planning to save to buy a house.

Instead, they encountered more hardship: his mother-in-law lost her job; his father-in-law became seriously ill; and the couple used their savings to help with bills.

Realizing they would never get ahead while helping their extended family, the couple moved to the Ann-Marie House in Hudson, a place for families in transition that provides shelter and financial education. The aim of Ann-Marie House is to help families set financial goals and become self-sufficient.

The Hughes were making progress.

Then Hughes’ father-in-law took a turn for the worse, and the family moved back to Milford to help.

At one point, there were seven people living in his in-laws’ two-bedroom apartment.

Hughes said he learned about the Habitat for Humanity program after he signed up to volunteer: It hadn’t occurred to him that he would qualify.

To be selected for the program, a family must have a low to moderate income and earn enough to pay back the mortgage.

The Hugheses applied and didn’t hear anything. They took a first-time home buyer’s course taught by a former Habitat volunteer.

“He put our name on the list. It was one of the first lucky breaks I’ve had in the last three years,” Hughes said of the recommendation that put him in line for one of two homes that were to be built in Milford.

His luck turned bad, again, however, several weeks ago when he learned about the surveyor’s report. Around the same time, his mother-in-law told the family they would have to move in 30 days, since she was buying a mobile home and giving up the apartment.

“We have to be out by July 25, and because we don’t have a rental history; it’s hard to get a place,” Hughes said.

Ed Lopez, president of Greater Nashua Habitat for Humanity, said he hasn’t thrown in the towel completely.

“We want to see if there are alternative solutions,” Lopez said.

A town official said experts planned to review the surveys, and Lopez said Milford officials will give the property “a fresh look.”

“The market was not the best when we purchased it. It was expensive,” Lopez said of the $105,000 lot, close to the downtown.

But Hughes, who is two weeks from having no roof to put over his family’s head, is perfectly clear about the surveyors’ reports.

He doesn’t expect a miracle.

“In a nutshell, we have nowhere to go … even though we have jobs and a good credit report. We explain the situation, and they say, ‘No.’”

Hattie Bernstein can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 24, or hbernstein@cabinet.com.