Old Bridge victims of Sandy finally see Blue Acres buyouts

Staff Writer

OLD BRIDGE — Three years after superstorm Sandy, the first Blue Acres Program buyout of 29 storm-damaged homes in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge has been completed, according to state officials.

That first buyout is a one-story bungalow style home at 9 Clifford Way, which was belonged to Kathy and Drew Litchkowski.

Superstorm Sandy inundated their home on Oct. 29, 2012, requiring the family to escape their property by canoe. Since then, they have been living with family in nearby Aberdeen.

“I truly am very thankful for the Blue Acres Program because, without them, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Kathy Litchkowski, a customer service supervisor.

Mayor Owen Henry said the township is “very pleased” to see the buyout process moving forward for residents impacted by Sandy.

“The process was long and often frustrating to all involved,” he said. “I am grateful for all the hard work put forth by the people in the various agencies including local, county and state personnel who demonstrated resolve and determination in getting our residents through this ordeal.”

Henry said he would also like to commend the residents for their “patience and resiliency” since the storm.

Appraisals on the 29 homes damaged in the 2012 storm are complete. The homes being considered for the state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Blue Acres buyout program are on Cliffwood Way, Bayshore Avenue, Shoreline Avenue, Raritan Boulevard, Pomona Boulevard and Appleby Street.

Henry said to date, 19 offers have been accepted and three closings have taken place.

The homes are acquired at pre-storm market values. The average price at which homes are being acquired as part of the Blue Acres program is about $225,000.

After a Blue Acres purchase, the homes are demolished, and the land is permanently preserved as open space for recreation or conservation purposes, state officials said.

Last year, the storm-damaged homes that qualified for the program were identified by the DEP and approved by the Old Bridge Township Council.

Funding for the program is provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to the DEP.

DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said the announcement of the completion is a testament to a goal by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to continue making flood-prone communities across New Jersey more resilient to devastating storms.

The willing-seller program has also reached the milestone of extending offers to 700 homeowners, with 534 accepting the state’s offer. Closings have been completed on 412 properties, 293 of which have now been demolished.

“More than three years after superstorm Sandy, this administration remains committed to reducing the impact of devastating storms on people and moving them out of harm’s way,” Martin said. “With more than 400 buyouts now completed through the Blue Acres Program, we will continue giving residents in flood-prone communities the opportunity to move to higher ground and enjoy their lives without fear of additional damages or disruption.”

Old Bridge and Linden are the first townships to use HUD funding through the CDBG program.

While Blue Acres initially focused on acquiring residential properties in communities hit hard by Sandy, to date statewide, buyouts are underway in 12 municipalities in six counties: Sayreville, South River, Woodbridge, Old Bridge and East Brunswick in Middlesex County; Manville (Somerset); Pompton Lakes (Passaic); Newark (Essex); Rahway and Linden (Union); and Lawrence and Downe (Cumberland).

The Blue Acres Buyout Program has created a special implementation team that expedites the buyout process. Individual case managers work closely with homeowners to personally guide them through the entire buyout process.

Some criteria the Blue Acres program uses to decide whether homes qualify for the program include flood damage from superstorm Sandy or repeated flood damage from previous storms; willing sellers; support from local government; clusters of flood-prone homes or entire neighborhoods; cost-effectiveness of the buyout according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines; opportunity for significant environmental impact or improvement to public health; and safety and welfare.

Homeowners interested in selling their homes or who have questions about the buyout program may call the DEP’s Blue Acres Buyout Program at 609-984-0500.

For more information, visit: www.nj.gov/dep/greenacres/blue_ flood_ ac. html.