New York state is waving a white flag to climate change by deciding to move human developments out of the way of future storm surges and return the land to nature.
Governor Cuomo wants to spend $400 million out of the $51 billion Congress approved for federal disaster relief to restore wetlands, dunes, and coastal areas into a protective undeveloped coastline – permanently.
The state would buy all damaged homes in areas vulnerable to future storms at their value before superstorm Sandy hit. Those homes would be demolished (if there’s anything left). About 10,000 homes in the "100-year flood plain" would be affected.
His ambitious plan needs approval on a federal level, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but is being lauded for putting an end to knee-jerk rebuilding and rampant coastal development.
In his State of the State address, Cuomo said, "there are some parcels that Mother Nature owns." He’s noted that in his two years of office he’s responded to more extreme weather events than his father did in his 12 years as governor.
Will People Move?
Although many residents are welcoming the decision, others are resistant, many having lived in homes passed through generations. Expensive flood insurance premiums could entice some to move, but those that have already listed their homes for sale have found willing buyers at a fraction of pre-storm prices.
The program caps payments for homes so that mansions and high-end homes are excluded.
133 of 165 households in a Staten Island community have signed up to sell, having been battered by floods and even brushfires for years. "These people have been so beat up, it’s just gotten to be too much," a homeowner told the New York Times. The neighborhood should "return to nature and do what it was intended to do, which is to be a sponge," another homeowner said.
But a state senator that represents storm ravaged areas like the Rockaways told the Times that out of 300,000 residents only three asked for information on selling their home.
"These are residents that chose to live by the water, they’re not going anywhere," says Joseph Addabbo.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has financed such home buyouts for 20 years; hundreds of people opted for this after Hurricanes Irene and Lee, says the New York Times.
Cuomo wants to offer a 5% bonus for people that relocate in the same community and a 10% bonus for those who move even without their home being damaged. If every homeowner agrees to sell that lives in a neighborhood of high risk, he’d give them another 10% above market value.
Local officials will be able to decide how they want to use the future undeveloped land, but they wouldn’t be allowed to build on it. They could turn it into a park or restore it in ways that would exclude human footprints altogether.