New Jersey will use $300 million in federal aid to buy out about 1,300 Hurricane Sandy-damaged and flood-prone homes in the state.
Gov. Chris Christie said in a news release that the state initially will target houses that have flooded repeatedly, focusing first on about 350 homes along the Delaware Bay in Lawrence Township, Cumberland County and in two Middlesex County towns. The program will target another 300 homes in the frequently flooded Passaic River basin.
“There comes a moment when you just know when Mother Nature is getting the best of you,” Christie said during a town hall meeting Thursday in Sayreville. “We’re putting a pretty quick timeline on this, a very quick timeline for government.”
None of the buyouts will be forced. Homeowners must agree to sell. The program could expand later if there is the demand, Christie said.
The state will operate the buyout program, which would vastly expand the existing Blue Acres program, with offers first coming in July and the first closings expected by Labor Day. The rest of the closings should be complete within one year.
The buyout program will focus on clusters of houses or entire neighborhoods that suffered storm damaged, with the buildings purchased by the state to eventually be demolished and the land turned into open space to absorb future flooding, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin said in a news release.
“It is up to these communities to make the tough decisions on whether to sell or rebuild,” Martin said in the release. “We understand this is a very personal and difficult decision to make for people who were decimated by Sandy and may have also suffered damage in previous storms, but who still love where they live.”
DEP has created a buyout team to process applications and finalize paperwork quickly, with staff reassigned from other areas of the department to work as case managers and work on the street, said DEP spokesman Larry Hajna. Martin and Christie pledged to make the process as easy and as quick as possible for homeowners.
Previous buyouts in the Blue Acres program have taken “anywhere from a year to two years,” Hajna said. “But we’re definitely working to make this a much quicker process.”
By the end of May, case managers will begin contacting homeowners who have expressed interest in buyouts. Some towns have given lists of interested homeowners to the state, and some homeowners have contacted the Blue Acres Program during the past few months, Hajna said.
In addition to heavy interest in places such as Sayreville and South River, Hajna said the department has received calls from homeowners in Toms River, Brick Township, Little Egg Harbor Township and the Gandy’s Beach section of Downe Township.
Established in 1995, the Blue Acres Program has purchased more than 198 properties for a total cost of $28.7 million, with most of those properties in the Raritan and Passaic River basins, according to DEP statistics. Those areas are home to more than $200 million in repeated flood losses, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency statistics.
New Jersey now ranks third in the amount of National Flood Insurance Program payouts and is fourth in the nation for flood insurance payments for repeatedly flooded properties, according to FEMA statistics.
New York has pledged to use $171 million from its first round of Community Development Block Grant disaster aid to pay for buyouts in that state. New Jersey’s money will come through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and also could come from the CDBG program, Hajna said.
Properties that have suffered storm damage, have been repeatedly flooded or that could act as a land buffer from future flooding are eligible. Property appraisals will begin in June. Homeowners interested in selling homes may contact the Blue Acres Program at 609-984-0500.
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