Bergen Dems plan proposals to assist flood-damaged areas

TRENTON – In response to Congress’ slow pace of providing aid to flood-ravaged towns in New Jersey, Bergen lawmakers are proposing several measures.

Sen. Robert Gordon, and Assembly members Connie Wagner and Joan Voss, all 38th District Democrats, are proposing a “Green Acres”-style measure of the kind instituted by various local governments wherein municipalities would be allowed to establish municipal open space trust funds specifically for the purchase of flood-prone properties. In order to establish such a fund, local governing bodies would have to seek voter approval for an annual levy at a rate deemed appropriate.

“The flood waters may be gone, but the damage from Irene has not dissipated. There are thousands of people who need help recovering from the storm and are having trouble finding it. There are several steps we can take to help alleviate some of their pain, including providing the necessary funds to begin rebuilding homes and communities,” Gordon said in a release.

Under current law, municipalities are authorized to establish “Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds.” This bill – introduced in the Senate on Thursday – would amend the name of these municipal open space trust funds to be “Municipal Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds.”

In doing so, the bill would expand this authorization to specifically include “Blue Acres projects,” which are any projects acquired for recreation or conservation purposes on land that has been damaged by, or may be prone to incurring damage caused by, storms or storm-related flooding, or that may buffer or protect other lands from such damage, the legislators said. The funds would be allowed to be used for the demolition of structures or the removal of debris from such properties and the restoration of those lands to a natural state or to a state useful for recreation and conservation purposes.

“This will help empower residents to determine how they want to deal with future flooding problems,” added Voss. “If it’s necessary for towns to buy up properties that consistently flood during heavy rains, residents will have the choice of creating a funding mechanism to do just that.”

The Bergen lawmakers also announced plans to introduce legislation to exempt sales and use tax for repair-related items for flood victims whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irene and/or Tropical Storm Lee. Similar to legislation enacted in the wake of Tropical Storm Floyd in 1999, this bill would limit the sales and use tax exemptions to the specific counties enumerated in the President’s disaster declaration for New Jersey.

Gordon said he intends to introduce the Senate version of the bill on Monday. Wagner and Voss will sponsor the measure in the Assembly.

Bergen Dems plan proposals to assist flood-damaged areas