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Governor Cuomo's Forward-Looking Floodplain Buy-Out Program Deserves Support

Eric Goldstein

Posted February 6, 2013 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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With federal disaster relief funds finally flowing into New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans for a bold and sensible program that would allow homeowners whose property was damaged in Hurricane Sandy to sell their houses to the State for fair market value prior to the storm. The land parcels acquired under this program would then be converted to natural buffers that could help protect those residents who choose to remain in the endangered flood zones.  

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Governor Cuomo’s plans for post-Sandy coastal protection include a sensible proposal to purchase damaged homes like this one on Staten Island’s south shore from willing sellers and utilize such flood-zone properties as natural buffers to protect communities from future storm surges.

The $400 million proposal, which would be funded out of the recently enacted $50 billion federal aid package, makes sense on several levels.

First, it would assist beleaguered homeowners whose neighborhoods were walloped in Hurricane Sandy and who desire to move their families out of harms’ way before the next storm hits.

Second, it would provide greater protection for those who choose to remain in flood zones by converting the properties that would be purchased into parkland, wetlands, and dunes that would serve as sponges in future disasters.

Third, it would minimize taxpayer expenditures for yet another floodplain rebuilding program, which would no doubt be established after the next inevitable hurricane hits our shores.

Some details of the Cuomo plan are still up in the air.

But several aspects of the proposal, which were reported in the New York Times, seem well-designed.  For example, residents who live in the most at-risk locations would be eligible for the program even if their homes were not damaged from Sandy; they would also be paid 10% above fair market value as a further inducement.  And the plan would offer a five percent bonus over fair market value for homeowners who elect to move to a new residence in the same county.

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Governor Cuomo’s forward-looking floodplain buy-out program would recognize the power and fury of Mother Nature by offering property-owners fair market value for their properties, like this one, on the Rockaway Peninsula, allowing owners to move out of harms’ way if they so choose.

As the final aspects of the plan are nailed down, we urge the Governor to consider adding one additional element – a $100 million voluntary buy-out program for business properties in these same flood-stricken neighborhoods.  The logic in support of such a parallel program for commercial properties is the same.  And in the report of the Governor’s 2100 Commission, just such a program seems to have been envisioned. 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been forceful in publicly stating: “The dangers from extreme weather are already here.”  And Governor Cuomo, in describing what we need to do to be better prepared, has rightly warned: “It’s not going to be about tinkering ….”

What is needed now if for HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Mayor Bloomberg to embrace the Recreate NY- Home Buy-Out program and join the Governor in advancing what is a bold and forward-looking strategy that assists New Yorkers who want to leave endangered flood zones and who understand the power and fury of Mother Nature at a time when New York's climate is rapidly changing.  

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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