Blue Acres Buyouts Attract Over 1,000 Owners of Flood-Prone Homes

Colleen O'Dea | February 21, 2014 | Map of the Week, Maps, Sandy
Hundreds of properties damaged by Sandy also in line for possible acquisition by state

More than 1,200 New Jerseyans are seeking a state buyout of their flood-prone homes in the wake of an infusion of federal Superstorm Sandy relief funds, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Not all of the 1,235 applicants, as of mid-January, for the Blue Acres program are likely to get a buyout, even though the overall number of applicants is close to the state’s goal announced last May of buying 1,000 Sandy-damaged homes, as well as another 300 homes in the Passaic River Basin that are frequently flooded, with $300 million in federal funds.

That’s because the state is seeking to buy clusters of homes in given neighborhoods to create open-space areas larger than a single lot. In 75 of the 93 municipalities where home owners have applied for a buyout, there were fewer than 10 applicants; only one person has applied in each of 43 communities.

So far, state officials have announced plans to buy nearly 400 homes — 361 in three Middlesex County communities, and 33 in Cumberland County.

Two weeks ago, state officials said they had received $26.3 million in Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy 89 homes in Woodbridge. That brings the total from the HMGP to $100 million to acquire 361 homes in Sayreville, South River and Woodbridge, which sustained damage as the result of flooding from the Raritan River, South River and Woodbridge River and a storm surge from Raritan Bay during Sandy.

The state also plans to use $9.4 million in state and federal funds to buy 33 homes and some vacant lots in the Sandy-ravaged Bay Point section of Lawrence Township, Cumberland County. The land there is to undergo ecologic restoration so it can serve as migratory bird habitat and as a buffer against flooding.

Through Feb. 6, state officials said they had closed on 27 properties in Sayreville and were working to complete other transfers. Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement that day that his administration was making “excellent progress” with the buyout program.

It has proven somewhat controversial, though, as some residents have questioned why they have yet to receive offers and environmentalists are concerned that the state is not putting enough emphasis on buying sensitive coastal land. Christie has said that the plan is to “buy out the neighborhoods that got most severely damaged after Sandy.”

DEP officials said they are working on potential buyouts in East Brunswick, Linden, Manville, Old Bridge, Neptune, Newark, Union Beach, and another section of Woodbridge. According to the DEP data, 51 home owners in Linden, 50 in Manville and 33 in Old Bridge have requested buyouts.

Neptune, with 18 applicants, and Union Beach, with 13, are the first coastal New Jersey communities being considered. There were five applicants in Newark and four in East Brunswick.

The state’s program will only consider willing sellers, officials said, adding that DEP has created a special team to process applications and move through the paperwork.

The buyouts are an extension of a state Blue Acres program first established by a 1995 bond issue initially meant to target the Delaware, Passaic and Raritan floodplains; it was later expanded to include all state waters. According to the program’s website, a total of $36 million was made available from the two bond acts.

Homeowners interested in selling their homes through this process may contact the DEP’s Blue Acres Program at (609) 984-0500.