From the Star Ledger:
Gov. Chris Christie said today he wants the state to use a portion of the federal Sandy aid money coming to New Jersey to buy up whole neighborhoods prone to flooding.
At a press conference with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan today in Sea Bright, Christie said he would only entertain offers of buyouts for large swaths of contiguous properties, not individual parcels, to maximize mitigating flood hazards.
In the first of three rounds of HUD funding from the $50 billion federal Sandy aid package to the Northeast, New Jersey received $1.83 billion in Community Development Block Grants. Another $11 billion in those grants will be distributed in two rounds to the states walloped by Sandy.
Jennifer Herrick, whose Sayreville home was flooded twice in the 32 months before Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29, said she welcomes the news, but remains “cautiously optimistic.”
She said the town has hired a buyout facilitator to help residents who want to sell their chronically flooded homes. So far, she said, about 180 owners in three different neighborhoods have submitted letters of interest in buyouts.
This first round of grants, though, will not be used for buyouts. Christie said. The first batch of money will go toward rebuilding and elevating homes damaged in the storm, he said. Another portion will be used for an aggressive marketing campaign for the Jersey Shore, he has said.
Donovan said some HUD money can be used for buyouts, but the bulk of it will go to rebuilding. He and Christie stressed the buyouts, through the state Blue Acres program, would have to be voluntary and would have to be large scale.
“This has to be a decision that the community comes together because you’re asking a family to give up a place they’ve lived for 50 or 100 years or even longer. That’s in some ways the toughest decision a family ever makes,” Donovan said. “There are communities (where) buyouts make sense because the community chooses to do that.”
He said he will not condemn properties.
“It’s certainly not something where I’m going to make the decision to condemn certain areas in this state and tell people they cannot rebuild. I’m very uncomfortable with using that authority,” he said. “We have it if we need to but I don’t think in this circumstance it’s the right thing to do. It’s much more appropriate to let the community come to some type of consensus and if they do then I certainly would be willing to sit with (Donovan) and discuss the possibility of using some of this money.”