BY CHRISTINE WOLFF
The Cincinnati Enquirer
NEW RICHMOND - Joe Stevens picked a 36-foot travel trailer Wednesday from among five lined up in the Village Hall parking lot - and the federal government picked up the tab.
The mini ''trailer expo'' set up in the lot is part of a new program to provide temporary housing for victims of the Flood of '97. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will pay the rent. Private vendors provide the trailers.
Mr. Stevens will set up the trailer today or Friday next to his flood-damaged house on Front Street. He, his wife and 17-year-old son will live there until house repairs are completed in about 60 days, he said.
''It's definitely great that somebody's helping us out,'' he said. ''We're rebuilding our house - got it gutted and rewired so far. It'll be nice - I'll be right beside 'home' home, as we call it.''
Until last year, FEMA owned its own fleet of travel trailers, which were stored at military bases and dispersed to disaster sites as needed. Then, FEMA opted to get out of the travel-trailer business.
In this flood's wake, FEMA and Ohio Emergency Management (OEM) launched the program that brought trailer vendors to the New Richmond parking lot.
''This is the first time we've tried this. It's an option we looked at and found feasible,'' said Dean Ervin, an emergency planner for OEM.
The travel trailers offer OEM more flexibility because they can be placed in a flood plain. A mobile home cannot be set up, even temporarily, on flood-prone ground, Mr. Ervin said.
The trailers, of various sizes, will stay in New Richmond through this afternoon so people can see what fits their needs. The Expo then moves to West Union in flood-damaged Adams County, then will set up in Lawrence County, Mr. Ervin said.
Two vendors - Jerry Greer from Columbus and Lee's RV Center in Batesville, Ind. - have joined the program so far and are displaying units in New Richmond. About 90 units have been made available. FEMA is covering three months' rent - $1,500 to $2,220.
The vendors say they will make a profit on the rentals, but not as much as renting them privately or selling them new.
''I don't want to make us seem like angels - we're here as business people, but we want to help, too,'' said Roger Lee. ''If it wasn't a catastrophe, I wouldn't be here.''
For information, Clermont County residents can see FEMA officials in New Richmond at the old Public School, Market Street; or call (800) 525-0321.