600 and counting: NJ Blue Acres continues to buy flood homes
Six hundred homes in flood zones have been bought by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Most of them have been demolished.
According to DEP spokesman Larry Hajna, after Superstorm Sandy hit the state almost five years ago, the Blue Acres program became an important component of the state’s overall strategy to make New Jersey more resilient to storms.
Following Sandy, the state got $185 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $175 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We were able to use it to acquire residential properties in flood-prone areas from willing sellers and we preserve that land as open space.”
He said the objective of the Blue Acres program is twofold.
“It’s to move people out of harm’s way and give them a viable option for relocation to a safer area. And two, it provides buffers to flooding through open space that help protect neighborhoods and communities.”
So far the Blue Acres Program has bought properties in the following towns:
- New Milford in Bergen County
- Lawrence and Downe in Cumberland County
- Newark in Essex County
- East Brunswick, Old Bridge, Sayreville, South River and Woodbridge in Middlesex County
- Ocean Township in Monmouth County.
- Pompton Lakes in Passaic County
- Manville in Somerset County
- Rahway and Linden in Union County
Hajna said after the destruction caused by Sandy, the message from a rising chorus of residents living in flood zones was “help.”
“They needed a viable option, they just couldn’t take any more flooding, along with flooding comes a lot of heartache and expense, you’re losing memories, you’re losing property.”
He stressed Blue Acres is a voluntary, willing-seller program.
“We don’t want to move into a municipality where we don’t have buy-in from the locals,” he said.
To help make the program work, Hajna said, “we’ve dedicated a special team of experts within the Blue Acres program that works closely with people and understands what the property owner is going through and the tough decisions that have to be made."
He said people who participate in Blue Acres are offered a pre-storm market value for their property
He pointed out one reason the program is so popular is because “after Sandy a lot of people realized their properties are not going to be worth very much because people are going to be wary of buying in an area that’s flooded before.”
Once a property has been purchased, “the property will be returned to open space. It could either be used for conservation or recreation purposes or a buffer zone to help protect the neighborhood from the next big storm.”
He said the program is one piece of a very broad strategy that has been ongoing since Sandy.
“And it includes things like making our beaches and dune systems better and more protective, looking at ways to prevent flooding from rivers and back bay areas.”
Hajna pointed out some of the people who participate in the Blue Acres program just didn’t realize how much of a problem flooding would be when they bought their home in the first place, and now they’re simply looking to move to another location where they don’t have this problem.
The 600th acquisition was a property on Columbia Street, along the Hackensack River, for $390,000. It is the 19th acquisition in New Milford.
Of the nearly 900 offers made by the Blue Acres Program, 678 have been accepted. More than 460 homes have been demolished.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com