Blue Acres hits milestone with 200th home buyout

Staff Writer

The 200th purchase of a Sandy-damaged home under the state’s Blue Acres Floodplain Buyout Program was completed on the two-year anniversary of the superstorm that rocked the Jersey Shore.

The home at 108 Weber Ave. in Sayreville was acquired by the state for $209,000 and is the 117th property to be purchased in the borough since the buyout program began in May 2013, according to Larry Hajna, press officer for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“After Sandy, we heard very clearly in a lot of communities that residents needed a way out,” Hajna said. “Sandy was the last straw. They’d been flooded out before. … It’s a very difficult experience that comes with a lot of expense, a lot of headache and a lot of heartache.”

So far, 200 homes in Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge and East Brunswick have been acquired and 100 have been demolished under the Blue Acres program, which deed-restricts purchased properties as open space.

Another 900 properties have been targeted for purchase, and 500 offers have been extended to homeowners in Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge, Newark, East Brunswick and Lawrence, according to the DEP.

The state has allocated more than $300 million to the Blue Acres buyout program, with the ultimate goal of acquiring about 1,300 properties located in floodplains.

According to Hajna, that goal may be revised upward in the future if more funds become available for the buyout program.

Targeted homes are appraised at their values prior to superstorm Sandy, which made landfall on Oct. 29, 2012.

Any funds received by the homeowners, including disaster relief or flood insurance payouts, are deducted from the purchase price.

“After Sandy, we developed a program that was very tuned in to the realities of what people had been going through for years, if not their entire lives,” Hajna said. “This allowed us to really put our abilities to serve our customers to the test. And I think, for the most part, the people who have come through the program realize how much we really do care.”

According to Hajna, Blue Acres has been around since 1995, but was revived and refocused to address the needs of flooded-out residents in the wake of superstorm Sandy.

“In the past, the Blue Acres program had been relatively limited in scope and really was limited by resources, too,” Hajna said.

Until May 2013, only 200 properties had been purchased under the program, he said.

Since it was revamped in 2013, the program has acquired the same amount of properties that it had in its previous 18 years of existence, according to Hajna.

In addition to Blue Acres, the DEP is leading efforts to disburse funds to assist residents in elevating their homes, he said.

To date, 1,000 applications for the Elevation Grant Program have been approved for up to $30,000 in funding for home elevations, he said. “These milestones are really very important to not just the people who work with the program and the people who work for the DEP, but for the public and these people who have been so impacted by the storm,” Hajna said. “But we still have a ways to go.

“We’re proud of those accomplishments, and we’re also happy to help out the people who have been so devastated and had their lives so impacted by Sandy.”