Just yesterday, I took a look at the rather unusual — but not entirely novel — buttress-building methods residents of Superstorm Sandy-ravaged Long Beach, N.Y. have employed to guard their city against future storms.
However, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has another idea when it comes to protecting his state's most vulnerable coastal communities. It goes a little something like this: Let's not focus all of our attention on further fortifying New York’s flood-prone areas whether it be planting oyster beds in New York Harbor, installing Dutch-style storm surge gates, or experimenting with dikes. Let's not focus entirely on costly infrastructure projects. Instead, let’s spend $400 million to buy uninhabitable or severely damaged homes for their full pre-Sandy market values, demolish them, and let Mother Nature have a go at the land where the homes once stood.
Cuomo’s recently proposed home buyout scheme, a program what would be partially funded by the finally approved $51 billion disaster relief package, is somewhat drastic and when you think about it, downright Weismanian in nature: razing homes and allowing the surrounding topography to revert back to its pre-developed, ocean-buffering state: wetlands, marshes, and dunes ... dunes just like the ones being reformed by residents in Long Beach. Some of the reclaimed coastline, which would be used exclusively to shield communities from future storms, could also be transformed into public parkland. That decision would be up to local authorities. Whatever the case, none of the land would ever be developed again.
Said Cuomo at a briefing immediately following Superstorm Sandy: “Climate change is a reality, extreme weather is a reality, it is a reality that we are vulnerable. Protecting this state from coastal flooding is a massive, massive undertaking. But it’s a conversation I think is overdue.”
Fast-forward four months later to January when Cuomo first proposed the idea of a post-Sandy home buyout program. His ominous statement at a State of the State address last week: “There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns. She may only visit once every few years. But she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits.”
A voluntary buyout program of this magnitude — about 10,000 irrevocably damaged homes located in New York's 100-year floodplain would be eligible — has never been considered before.
Explains the New York Times:
The purchase program, which still requires approval from federal officials, would be among the most ambitious ever undertaken, not only in scale but also in how Mr. Cuomo would be using the money to begin reshaping coastal land use. Residents living in flood plains with homes that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate; those in even more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell; and in a small number of highly flood-prone areas, the state would double the bonus if an entire block of homeowners agreed to leave.
A majority of homeowners in the Fox Beach section of Staten Island’s devastated Oakwood Beach neighborhood have expressed interest in relocating and are prepared to accept a buyout if one is offered. Says Tina Downer, a member of the Oakwood Beach Buyout Committee: “We don’t have the fight enough to stay any more.” She adds that her own neighborhood should be allowed to “return to nature and do what it was intended to do, which is to be a sponge.”
Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R), whose district includes Oakwood Beach, explains to the Christian Science Monitor: "Sometimes it’s more appropriate to look back and see if Mother Nature has won and allow people to be bought out of homes and moved to other parts of the community. Staten Island seems to be the epicenter of interest for this program because they deal with a lot more than just flooding — a significant amount of forest fires, phragmites [an invasive grass that fuels wildfires], and overall flooding coming off the water on a regular basis.”
Over in the Rockaways, longtime resident Cynthia Koulouris won’t even consider the thought of moving elsewhere. “Nobody wants to leave here.“Where would I go? To Astoria? To Brooklyn? No!” Sen. Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., the Democratic rep for the Rockaways, Breezy Point, and other vulnerable coastal communities in Queens that suffered greatly during Superstorm Sandy, claims that of the more than 300,000 people in his district, only three had asked him about the possibility of a government buyout. “These are residents that chose to live by the water. They’re not going anywhere,” he tells the Times.
Outside of the city proper, Newsday also reports that there’s been little interest from eligible homeowners on Long Island. Most would rather stick it out and rebuild rather than abandon their communities by selling their homes — or what's left of them — to the government and getting the hell out.
All and all, Governor Cuomo's office expects that 10 to 15 percent of eligible homeowners will pursue the buyout scheme if it is granted with federal approval.
I myself live within Brooklyn's 100-year floodplain.