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Three Years After Sandy, No ‘Buyouts’ in Flood-Prone Ocean County

Flooding on a barrier island street during the Oct. 2015 nor'easter. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Flooding on a barrier island street during the Oct. 2015 nor’easter. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

On the three-year anniversary of the landfall of Superstorm Sandy on the New Jersey coastline, state officials announced the buyout of three homes in Linden under the Blue Acres program, in which the state purchases flood-prone properties and preserves them from future development.

About 40 homes in the North Jersey town have been identified for potential buyouts, with properties in similar communities in Middlesex County and the Delaware Bay regions having already been purchased. But in Ocean County, where waterfront property values dwarf those in the grittier bay and riverfront areas of Linden, Sayreville and elsewhere, the state has not made a single purchase since the storm.

The interest has been relatively minimal, according to state officials.

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“We approached all the towns in the Sandy impacted counties to gauge the interest in the program,” said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the Blue Acres program. “In Ocean County, we simply have not had the interest in the program that we’ve had in Middlesex County.”

The state received about 1,200 applications from interested property owners for buyouts. In Brick Township, there were between 10 and 49 applications filed, according to state data compiled by NJ Spotlight, a public policy website. There were 3 applications filed in Toms River and one in Seaside Heights. In Mantoloking and Lavallette, where property values are among the highest in the county, zero applications were filed. In similar high-value barrier island communities such as Surf City, Barnegat Light and Harvey Cedars, there were – likewise – no applications for funding.

Despite the relatively minimal interest in the program, some environmentalists have promoted buyouts as a way to prepare for what they see as an impending threat from climate change and sea level rise.

“Without buying coastal properties and promoting development at the shore, we believe there is no adequate planning for flooding impacts and future storm surges,” the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club said in a statement.

Jeff Tittel, the president of the chapter, accused state officials of deliberately avoiding buyouts in Shore communities to appease “developers, land speculators, and special interest groups.”

Blue Acres, however, is not designed to be utilized by single homeowners, state officials have said. The state has targeted large groups of willing residents so entire blocks or neighborhoods can be bought out. If an entire neighborhood’s worth of homeowners were not willing to sell, single homes would have to be demolished, leaving open spaces in the middle of residential streets, which could potentially exacerbate flooding issues.

“It’s a willing seller program,” said Considine. “It’s not something we can impose, per se. We’ve basically just been where the interest has been.”

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