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There's No Easy Way Out for Sandy Survivors Looking to Move On with Their Lives

The cause of the recent flooding problems is rooted in years of overdevelopment throughout the area, said Debbie Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper, an environmental group that’s studied Sandy’s impact on the region. Standing at the end of a dead-end street, just a hundred feet or so from the bank of the South River, she points to a row of houses in neighboring East Brunswick that were built in the past 15 years.

“You can see right across the river is a newer development that’s actually been built at an elevated level,” she said.

“As far as I know, those homes didn’t flood, but the more you’re filling in the floodplain with development and impervious surface, you’re taking away the areas where it should naturally be flooding, and you’re pushing all that water somewhere else, and the water has to go somewhere.”

The place it went was rushing through Sayreville’s waterfront neighborhoods, damaging hundreds of homes and apartments and collapsing nearly 40 foundations.

Mans speculated that many of those homes never should have been built so close to the river in the first place, and she’s especially concerned with all the new waterfront construction that’s taken place over just the past few decades.

“It’s continually being developed without an understanding of what one development in one town means to another town up or down river,” she said, noting that the problem of eroding wetlands is compounded by climate change and an increase in severe weather like Sandy. “I think that’s all coming together, unfortunately, for this community.”

The extent of the damage in Sayreville and the number of willing sellers is what made sections of this town attractive for a state buyout in the first place.

If all the homeowners in the area accepted the buyout, the borough wouldn’t have to maintain roads, sewers, and electric lines and repair them with each flood.

“Our problems would go away in reference to infrastructure,” explained Dan Frankel, Sayreville’s business administrator. “The entire two streets on both sides would be open land.”

However, Frankel is skeptical that everyone who is offered a buyout will take it.

“It’s hard to get 100 percent compliance,” he said, noting that participation in the program is voluntary. “I just don’t think we’re going to get it.”

If just one or two people opt to stay, the town will still have to maintain the roads and services, plus a new park, if that’s what the area becomes. Additionally, if all the homeowner who accept buyouts were to move out of Sayreville, the town could lose $1 million in annual property tax revenue. Given the town’s $50 million annual budget, Frankel deems that loss “very significant.”

Additionally, there are more homeowners in Sayreville who would like buyouts, but who have not yet been accepted into the Blue Acres program.

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