Posted Thursday, March 15th, 2012

An innovative Flood Mitigation Program to help purchase flood-prone residential properties and convert them to permanently preserved open space was adopted tonight by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

The freeholders said the new program is the first of its kind at the county level in the state, and is meant to assist municipalities in the acquisition of residential properties only, by expanding the flood plain mitigation efforts of the county’s current open space initiative.

The mitigation program will operate as an expansion of the Morris County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, and will initially be funded by $16 million of unencumbered funds currently allocated to the Morris County Agriculture Development Board. Future funding levels will be determined annually.

The freeholders said the Morris County Flood Mitigation Program was developed in response to increased, repetitive flooding in the county, especially the excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011.

“Developed areas which are subject to recurrent flooding pose a serious threat to the public’s health, safety and general welfare,” said Freeholder Ann Grossi. “A key management strategy for flood control involves the purchase and removal of frequently flooded housing within the flood plain. The objectives are to provide natural open space areas for floodwater storage, decrease the loss of life and property risk, lower costs for the governments involved, and provide a new beginning for flood-prone home owners.”

Freeholder Gene Feyl was the first to initiate discussion of a flood mitigation plan last September. Feyl said the county will try to move people and homes out of harm’s way and create new open space that will help absorb and contain future flooding, providing a natural, self-sustaining barrier to both residences and businesses.

“Regrettably, the destruction caused by Hurricane Irene and last year’s pre-Halloween storm was not a one-time anomaly, but a risk that flood plain property owners have faced from the time construction was permitted in these disaster prone neighborhoods,” Feyl said. “This program will allow towns to take steps to effect lasting mitigation by permanently removing dwellings from the floodways.”

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

Grant applications may be filed throughout the year on a rolling basis and must be accompanied by a basic, long-term acquisition plan for mitigating the flood-prone areas of a municipality to discourage “checkerboard” purchases within neighborhoods.

Morris County will be providing dedicated staff resources to work directly with municipalities in the development of these acquisition plans and applications. The Flood Mitigation Program calls for the property in question to be appraised to determine a reasonable, pre-flood event market value based on comparable sales.

A five-member Flood Mitigation Committee will be formed to assess the applications and make recommendations to the board of freeholders. Morris County will provide matching funds to municipalities in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Blue Acres program or the municipality, up to a maximum of 75 percent of the total project cost.

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. Applications not funded through this program may subsequently apply to the traditional Morris County Open Space Program for funding support for the purchase of land only.

The Morris County Flood Mitigation Program will work with willing homeowners only, with all funds going directly to the municipality, which will, in turn, make the purchase.

“This program will help alleviate some of the trauma and suffering our towns and citizens have endured from flooding,” Freeholder Grossi said. “It will help those who have lost their homes get back on their feet.”

Additional information is available online on the Morris County Department of Planning and Development website, under the heading Flood Mitigation, or by calling the Morris County Department of Planning and Development at 973-829-8120.