County to Buy Flood-Damaged Homes
Goal is to remove houses from flood plains and return flood-prone areas to open space.
The Morris County Board of Freeholders approved a program to help municipalities purchase homes in flood-prone areas during its Wednesday evening public meeting.
The flood mitigation program is designed to allow the county to assist people who own homes that have been repeatedly damaged or have become uninhabitable after one flood.
Prior to Hurricane Irene, the county planning department identified 442 homes worth an estimated $128.7 million in 18 communities that were located in areas susceptible to flooding.
The county has been working with state and federal officials to secure flood mitigation funds, said Planning Director Deena Cybulski. But those funds are drying up and not all towns with needs will get funding, she said. After Hurricane Irene, 20 Morris County towns applied for state or federal funds, but only four received grants.
Morris County has requested $6.77 million in matching emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Cybulski said. The funds would be used to mitigate Hurricane Irene damage in: Denville, $501,087; Lincoln Park, $1,359,910; Parsippany, $2,406,735; and Pequannock, $1,282,481.
Severe Repetitive loss funds were sought for: Lincoln Park, $498,800; and Pequannock, $550,000.
New Freeholder William “Hank” Lyon, who was sworn in on Saturday following an election to fill the vacated spot of Margaret Nordstrom, abstained on the measure since he was only recently presented with the material. Lyon said, though, that he did not oppose a quick vote since the need to act was paramount.
Freeholder Gene Feyl said the program was actually the idea of his wife, who after spending days working with families displaced by floods last fall, told him “you need to do something.”
Feyl said families whose homes were lost in the fall’s floods are still struggling with housing needs.
“They are still out there,” he said. “They have not gone away. They are still homeless.”
Freeholder Douglas Cabana said, “The freeholders have personally been in these flood-ravaged areas. We have seen the devastation. Turning flood plains to open space benefits everyone.”
Cabana said there is a cost saving side to the program as well. Last fall the county provided large trash containers so that residents could dump their damaged goods. The cost was enormous, he said. There is also a safety benefit for first responders who won’t have to rescue people from their flooded homes, he said.
"We’ve all seen the aerial views of flooding from other places, and we can’t imagine it," Freeholder Ann Grossi said. "But, I’ve seen the damage first hand in my own town.”
Cybulski said the goal of the plan is to remove from flood plains and flood prone areas of towns homes that have been repeatedly repaired and to allow the land to become open space. The county funds would cover 75 percent of the cost of buying the home, Cybukski said. A municipality must provide 25 percent of the cost. Costs from things such as demolition of the home or raising it to get it above a projected flood line, or other mitigation efforts that do not include the purchase of the home for open space, are not covered by the county program, she said.
Funding for the program will come from the county’s open space preservation trust fund, which since 1994 has been used to purchase open space and farmland and to preserve historic structures.
Jennifer McCulloch, assistant planning director, said $16 million will be used to fund the program in the first year. The money will come from unallocated farmland preservation funds. Future funding will be determined annually and be subject to the freeholder’s annual budget process, she said.
Cybulski said past land use practices helped create the current situation.
After World War II, homes were built in floodplains because land was cheaper there. Later floodplains were expanded and increased development reduced the land’s ability to absorb floods, she said.
In December the county determined that before Hurricane Irene hit, there was a need for $128.7 million in flood mitigation funds, as follows:
- Boonton: five homes, $1 million, $200,000 per home.
- Butler: seven homes, $2.1 million, $300,000 per home.
- Denville: 49 homes, $18.2 million, $371,632 per home.
- Dover: 21 Homes, $4.2 million, $200,000 per home.
- East Hanover: seven homes, $2.25 million, $321,420 per home.
- Hanover: 10 homes, $1.62 million, $162,000 per home.
- Jefferson: 70 homes, $24.5 million, $350,000 per home.
- Lincoln Park: 85 homes, $29.8 million, $350,588 homes.
- Long Hill: nine homes, $3.95 million, $438,889 per home.
- Montville: three homes, $2.1 million, $700,000 per home.
- Morris Township: 29 homes, $14 million, $482,759 per home
- Parsippany: 88 homes, $11.4 million, $129,545 per home.
- Randolph: one home, $300,000.
- Riverdale: 12 homes, $3.2 million, $266,667 per home.
- Rockaway Township: two homes, $800,000, $400,000 per home.
- Washington Township: five homes, $1.75 million, $350,000 per home.