Buyout process for flood prone areas underway

TRENTON – “Thy fate is the common fate of all; into each life some rain must fall.”

Maybe wondering if Longfellow ever visited stormy Manville at high tide, residents in 13 flood-prone New Jersey towns have begun discussions with the state Office of Emergency Management to proceed with a federally-funded buyout process.

The program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which awards grants across the nation to states, which in turn pass the funding to municipalities for acquisition of land in flood-prone areas.

In the end, the towns own the land – not to be redeveloped for housing – that generally is used for open space, parks, or recreation areas, according to OEM spokeswoman Mary Goepfert.

She told State Street Wire today that the state is mediating FEMA’s “Accelerated Property Acquisition Plan” for New Jersey, helping to engage towns and property owners who can voluntarily enroll in the buyout pilot program. The process usually takes up to two years to complete, Goepfert said, but these “accelerated” efforts are moving forward to complete transfer of land in12 months or less.

The 13 towns that have been in discussions with the state about buyouts are Cranford, Denville, Fairfield, Lincoln Park, Little Falls, Manville, Middlesex Borough, New Milford, Paterson, Pequannock, Pompton Lakes, Wayne, and Westwood.

Although there are no barriers for the federal program to begin, Goepfert isn’t calling it an absolute green-light yet. “We’re in a process now of getting all the agreements signed,” she said, and preparing for a lightning quick application process that would include property assessments.

“The idea is: ‘Let’s see if we can accelerate some of these processes in a way that’s a little more practical,’ ” she said. “It’s a complex and (emotional) decision for the homeowner when they have to leave that property…They have memories tied up in that home.”

Once the state submits the applications for buyouts to FEMA, the federal agency will prioritize the projects in the context of national relief needs.

New Jersey ranks third in the nation in number of “repetitive-loss properties,” Goepfert said, which is usually considered a negative factor but which works in the state’s favor for federal prioritization.

“It’s been a challenge because there’s been a lot of disasters,” she said. “This is not the end of the road in terms of (state) mitigation dollars (for destructive weather).”

The state is also investing recovery funds in programs for retrofitting properties, she said, for instance providing assistance to raise homes out of the reach of flood waters and rearranging electrical and HVAC units above high-water levels.

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Buyout process for flood prone areas underway