Governor Chris Christie is asking the federal government to let the state use $250 million in Sandy aid to help New Jersey buy out homeowners in flood-prone areas, but he does not want to force people to sell.
Speaking before senior citizens in Lakewood, Christie indicated for the first time the scale of buyout program he is willing to run in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Christie has focused much more on rebuilding after last year's devastating storm than on getting people and property out of harm's way in case of future catastrophe. He's previously said that he would consider buyouts only if entire neighborhoods would go along and did not want just piecemeal purchases that would leave nearby structures that are just as vulnerable.
Environmentalists criticized Christie last week when he announced his plan to spend the first $1.8 billion in federal aid for unmet needs and it did not include any money to buy out homeowners in vulnerable areas. The same day, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a plan for areas of New York outside of New York City and said he wanted to put $170 million toward buying properties.
The $250 million Christie spoke of Tuesday could be enough to purchase 1,000 homes valued at $250,000 each.
He did not explain all the details Tuesday, and a spokesman said the amount being requested out of a $60 billion federal Sandy relief allocation could be in flux. The program Christie spoke of Tuesday dwarfs the state's regular Blue Acres program for buying homes in flood zones, which is routinely funded with $12 million a year.
But Christie said he wants to focus buyouts in places that have been flooded repeatedly and where many residents want to leave. Specifically, he said the Middlesex County communities of South River, Sayreville and Woodbridge. But he said some towns devastated by the storm are not interested.
"I don't want to get into condemning property," he said. "Union Beach, there would be a revolution. They want to rebuild there. They understand the risks."
Christie's announcement got the quick endorsement of Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic president of the state Senate.
"At the end of the day, Mother Nature is going to do what she wants. We have learned that lesson the hard way repeatedly over the last few years," Sweeney said in a statement. "That is why, as I have said in the past, it's not just about rebuilding after Sandy, it is about rebuilding smart. Buying out flood-prone homes is a good start."