After Ida, New Jersey considers expansion of flood buyback program
“Let’s get out of here,” Sawyer said in an interview this month, the day President Joe Biden visited the storm-stricken town. “This is our third flood. I’ve had enough. I’m done. I want to get out of here.”
Not even a month after Ida’s torrential remains dumped nearly a foot of rain in a few hours in some spots, turning roads into waterways and killing 30 people in the state, New Jersey’s main environmental regulator. This week said the state’s floodplain property buyback program “definitely needs expansion” as part of the state’s efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Sawyer, a school bus driver, could be a beneficiary if New Jersey officials move forward with the expansion of the program, known as Blue Acres. But the program is not a slam dunk for residents, who must file claims and assess whether a buyout makes financial sense to them.
Sawyer said she’s already reviewing the process, and it’s intimidating: there’s paperwork, a lot of waiting, and a fair amount of uncertainty. She also fears that she will have to sell her house on the market if the state’s supply is not enough.
“We have very little to no retirement,” she said. “This house is our future. Unfortunately.
The expansion of the program, however, depends in part on the allocation of additional federal funds, Environmental Protection Department commissioner Shawn LaTourette said at a remote press conference. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy also said this month that expanding the program should be on the table, but he did not come up with a plan.
It might also be difficult to persuade cities to participate. Support from local authorities is one of the criteria taken into account by the State when it decides whether or not to offer buybacks.
“For a community to accept its risk and actually say to itself that it is necessary to uproot itself and find a new community … it is a great cultural enterprise,” he said.
In Little Falls, just west of Paterson, the town experienced eight major floods from 2005 to 2011, according to the National Weather Service.
Nearly 150 homes in the city have been raised or purchased by the state and FEMA since 2010, Mayor James Damiano said. He added that he preferred the elevations over buyouts for a number of reasons, including that homeowners who opt for the elevation can expect significant reductions in their flood insurance costs, while buyouts cost the city over time in tax revenue.
New Jersey’s Blue Acres program began statewide in 2013 and spent $ 200 million on buybacks in February, the latest data available. The lion’s share of that funding, however, came from the federal government. The program has bid on approximately 1,100 properties in 20 cities across the state, including Manville. About 700 houses were demolished.
Manville sits along the Raritan and Millstone rivers and is often hit hard by storms. The remnants of Tropical Storm Floyd caused catastrophic flooding in 1998, and the town suffered severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Super Storm Sandy in 2012. A low elevation section is known as the name of Lost Valley, which was hit hard by Ida and it was there that Biden toured.
Mark Nipps, a 25-year-old retired volunteer firefighter and a resident of Manville, recently pointed out the vacant lots where the homes swallowed up by the program once stood.
“You hate to see your city disappear,” he said. “I don’t know if this part of town will be totally gone in my lifetime or if people are just taking a chance (and staying).”
Lou DeFazio, an entrepreneur by trade and residing with Sawyer in the Lost Valley, said he was not leaving. It’s home, he said.
Over the past three decades, federal and local governments have invested more than $ 5 billion in purchasing tens of thousands of vulnerable properties across the country, according to Associated Press analysis of agency data Federal Emergency Management and Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. in 2019.
New Jersey ranked among the best states for federal money spent on residential property buyouts through flooding.
Associated Press writer David Porter in Little Falls, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
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