Monday, July 27th, 2015

 The Morris County Freeholders have approved a $622,394 grant allocation for the buyouts of two flood-threatened residential properties in the Stirling section of Long Hill, marking the first such purchases in that township under the county’s innovative Flood Mitigation Program, which has previously approved $4.9 million to partially fund purchases of 55 homes in seven towns.
 
Freeholders Approve First Buyouts of Flood-Prone Properties in Long Hill Through Innovative County Program
 
The freeholders voted unanimously to approve the allocation for the Long Hill properties at the board’s July 22 meeting. Approval was based on the recommendations of the Morris County Flood Mitigation Committee, which reviewed the applications. With this final approval, Long Hill may now proceed to closing on these properties, located on Cedar Street and Laurel Street.

The county set aside funding for buyouts of other Long Hill properties in Stirling, as well as the Millington and Gillette sections of the township, which has long dealt with periodic Passaic River flooding.

“This is part of our continuing effort to help to get county residents out of harm’s way in places that are expected to be struck by future flooding,’’ said Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo.

“We are glad to be able to help Long Hill residents who have longstanding flood issues,’’ added Freeholder John Cesaro, who is the county governing board’s liaison on open space issues. 

“These buyouts also will help ease the burden on the town’s first responders, who are called upon to rescue threatened families from flood water, and helps protect other nearby homes and businesses from subsequent flooding,’’ 

The goal of the program, which currently has some 40 pending projects in six municipalities, is to help towns secure flood-prone properties from willing sellers and convert the sites to permanently preserved open space, which naturally captures and absorbs flood water. 

Additionally, these acquisitions lower municipal costs. Every project is subject to a detailed benefit-cost analysis based on FEMA computer models. On average, these Morris County projects have yielded a 7:1 benefit cost ratio (for every $1 spent by the county, there are $7 in benefits to the towns and county).

The board established the Flood Mitigation Program in 2012 in response to increased, repetitive flooding in the county, especially the excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011. It is an expansion of the Morris County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust, and is funded by the county’s open space tax. 

As flood insurance rates rise significantly due to federal legislation, more homeowners are considering flood buyouts as an escape from destructive, repetitive flooding and the increasing cost of homeowners insurance in floodplains. In 2014, the average flood insurance policy nationwide cost $468; in 2015, this cost jumped to $708. As federal subsidies for flood insurance gradually diminish to zero, insurance premiums will continue to rise until they reach their true actuarial risk.

The Morris County Flood Mitigation Program was the first program at the county level in New Jersey dedicated to acquiring flood-prone homes and land. It was honored by the state DEP with a 2014 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award.

According to Jennifer McCulloch, coordinator of the Flood Mitigation Program, the program is structured with two basic funding tracks. The “MATCH Program’’ provides a 25 percent county match for projects already underway with agencies, such as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or DEP’s Blue Acres Program,

The second funding track, or “CORE Program,” is designed to catch homes that have fallen through other agency’s funding nets, with Morris County providing up to 75 percent of the acquisition cost. The first two Long Hill buyouts – and all planned Long Hill buyouts — are in the CORE category. The remaining 25 percent cost share is being provided by New Jersey DEP, Long Hill Open Space Trust Fund, and homeowner donation of value.

In addition to Long Hill, the county has provided grant funding for buyouts in Boonton, Denville, Lincoln Park, Morristown, Parsippany, Pequannock and Riverdale.  

Grant applications are considered from municipalities only for acquisition of flood-affected residences from willing sellers. All county funds go directly to municipalities, which purchase the properties and must maintain the land as public open space in perpetuity, said McCulloch.

Additional information is available at http://www.morrispreservation.com, or by calling 973-829-8120.