Thursday, May 31st, 2012

The Morris County Freeholders have given preliminary approval for the buyout of 67 residential properties in Denville, Parsippany, Pequannock and Lincoln Park under the county’s innovative new Flood Mitigation Program, which helps purchase flood-prone residential properties from willing sellers and convert them to permanently preserved open space.

The action authorizes the encumbrance of county grant funds totaling $5 million to provide a 25 percent match for the Hurricane Irene hazard mitigation funds received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the amount of $14.5 million, said Jennifer McCulloch, coordinator of the Flood Mitigation Program.

As a result, all FEMA disaster funding in Morris County for Hurricane Irene has been matched, and municipalities are able to move forward on these projects.

Additionally, four Denville properties impacted by Hurricane Irene that were not given FEMA disaster funding received preliminary approval as well. For these projects, Morris County will provide up to 75 percent of the $1.2 million acquisition cost, with the remaining cost share provided by NJ-DEP Green Acres, McCulloch said.

Freeholder approval was based on the recommendations of the newly formed Morris County Flood Mitigation Committee, which reviewed the applications at its first two meetings in April and May.

Of the 67 properties, 15 are in Lincoln Park, 15 are in Pequannock, 11 are in Denville and 26 are in Parsippany.  The four towns may now proceed with their “due diligence,” including appraisals, surveys, environmental assessments and negotiating a purchase price with homeowners, McCulloch said.
 
The freeholders established the Flood Mitigation Program in March in response to increased, repetitive flooding in the county, especially the excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011, said Freeholder Ann Grossi, who noted this is the first county-level dedicated flood mitigation program in the state.
 
“Hurricane Irene brought to our attention the cycle of repetitive flooding that so many of our communities are struggling with,” Grossi said. “In the wake of that disaster, the freeholders felt strongly that a more pro-active approach could be developed to permanently move people out of harm’s way and reduce the destruction from flooding.”
 
“The main objectives of the program are to move people out of harm’s way and create natural, sustainable flood storage areas which protect the remaining homeowners, businesses and properties,” McCulloch said.

The program is structured with two basic funding tracks, a “MATCH Program,” which provides match funding for projects already underway with another agency such as FEMA, or Blue Acres, and a “CORE Program,” which is designed to catch homes that have fallen through other agency’s funding nets. In the latter case, Morris County will provide up to 75 percent of the acquisition cost, McCulloch said.

The Flood Mitigation program is an expansion of the Morris County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. It was initially funded by $16 million of unencumbered funds allocated to the Morris County Agriculture Development Board, Grossi said.

Future funding levels for the program will be determined on an annual basis. As a result of these preliminary approvals, approximately $6 million of the original $16 million that was made available has been encumbered for projects.

“This is a natural evolution within the County’s 20 year-old Preservation Trust Fund, similar to the addition of Historic Preservation 9 years ago,” Grossi said. “As an added benefit, more urban communities will benefit from the open space tax in a way that they may not have been able to in the past.”
 
The Flood Mitigation Committee members operate within a unique set of rules and regulations created specifically for this program, and they report directly to the board of freeholders.

Under the terms of the Flood Mitigation Program, grant applications will be considered from municipalities only for the acquisition of residences, and lands associated with the residences, that have experienced either severe repetitive flooding, or homes that have sustained over 50 percent damage from a single flood event, said McCulloch.

Applications not funded through this program may subsequently apply to the traditional Morris County Open Space Program for funding to purchase the land only.  Costs for demolition, elevation or other non-acquisition mitigation techniques are not eligible under the county’s program.

Priority will be given to towns that have sought funding from other sources prior to applying to Morris County, but application to other funding sources is not a requirement to be eligible for the program.

The Morris County Flood Mitigation Program will work with willing homeowners only, with all funds going directly to the municipality, which will, in turn, purchase the land, holding and maintaining it as public, open space in perpetuity.

Additional information is available online at http://www.morrisplanning.org/, or by calling Jennifer McCulloch at the Morris County Department of Planning and Development at 973-829-8120.