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Advocate file photo - The yard of an East Silverleaf Street home in Gonzales holds water after heavy downpours this past May. 

GONZALES - The effort by the city of Gonzales and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to buy out homes on flood-prone East Silverleaf Street and restore the area to wetlands is a work in progress, as the USDA reviews the applications sent in by residents so far, the first step in the process. 

The applications, sent electronically to more than 40 property owners in August, are in different stages of review, Gonzales City Engineer Jackie Baumann said last week.

Some of the applications have been found to be complete, others may be missing a signature, pertinent information or, in some cases, proof of ownership, Baumann said.

"The current status is that the USDA is checking all the required documentation in every application. All have not been approved for completeness," Baumann said Wednesday.

The applications of all 47 property owners on Silverleaf must be complete and correct before the USDA moves on to the next step, which would be home or property appraisals, Baumann said. There are two empty lots on the street.  

The application review process can be a lengthy one, up to two years, Baumann said she's been told by the federal agency.

In August, staff from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, which administers the buyout program, came to Gonzales to answer Silverleaf residents' questions about the process.

Since then, staff with the Baton Rouge-based Center for Planning Excellence, under an hourly contract with the city, have been providing one-on-one assistance for residents who need help in putting applications together. 

"CPEX has been able to submit applications on behalf of the majority of Silverleaf property owners and we are continuing to work with the property owners, the City of Gonzales and the USDA to move the process forward in a timely fashion," said Jessica Kemp, CPEX vice-president of policy and advocacy, last week.

With the help of U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, the city of Gonzales learned about the fairly new federal buyout program, called the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, after the August 2016 floods once again wreaked havoc on Silverleaf Street, which has flooded regularly since homes were first built there in the mid-1980s.

Under the program, the federal government would buy the homes at the pre-flood appraised value, demolish and remove them, along with the street and infrastructure, and restore the property to wetlands. 

Silverleaf resident Herb "June" Smith said last week that he turned in his application early on.

"I thought it was pretty straightforward," he said. 

He and his wife, Melinda, built their home on Silverleaf two decades ago. The house stands almost three feet off the ground and narrowly escaped being flooded in August 2016, Herb Smith said earlier this year.

Every heavy rain, though, brings about two feet of water into their carport that stands there for weeks, he said.

Now, Smith said, he and his wife are waiting to hear about the next step in the buyout process.

"I'm sure it's a long process," he said. "You've got to deal with it, take it as it comes." 

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.