MORRIS COUNTY — The Morris County Board of Freeholders have approved a $157,500 allocation for the buyout of a flood-threatened residential property in Parsippany. It marks the 20th such purchase in the township under the county’s innovative Flood Mitigation Program, which has previously approved $7.5 million to partially fund purchases of 67 homes in eight towns.
The freeholders voted unanimously to approve the allocation for the latest Parsippany buyout at the board’s May 24 meeting based on a recommendation by the Morris County Flood Mitigation Committee.
All of the Parsippany buyouts have focused on the Lake Hiawatha area, which developed as a summer community many decades ago and evolved into year-round living. During Hurricane Irene, the flood wall erected more than 25 years ago was overtopped and the community experienced severe flooding.
With approval of this latest buyout, for a home on Mohican Place along the Rockaway River, Morris County will have provided a total of $1.3 million to Parsippany for flood buyouts.
“This is part of our continuing effort to help to get residents from across the county out of harm’s way in places that have been overwhelmed by previous floods and are expected to be struck by future flooding,’’ said Freeholder Director Doug Cabana.
These buyouts result in creation of new open space that provides flood storage and creates buffer areas that help protect other nearby homes and businesses from flooding,’’ added Freeholder Christine Myers, the board’s liaison on open space issues. “In addition, buyouts ease the burden on first responders, who must rescue flood-threatened families, and Public Works teams who handle post-flood issues and debris.’’
The goal of the county program, which currently has another 24 pending projects, 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. Each potential flood buyout is subject to an in-depth benefit-cost analysis to assure that it makes financial and practical sense to remove the home. Morris County’s average benefit-cost ratio for the 68 projects completed is a 7:1 – meaning that for every $1 spent there is $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 voter-approved 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. The state DEP in 2014 awarded the program a 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 the state 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 latest Lake Hiawatha buyout is in the CORE category. The remaining 25 percent cost share is being provided by New Jersey DEP, Parsippany’s Open Space Trust Fund, and homeowner donation of value.
In addition to Parsippany, the county has provided grant funding for buyouts in Boonton, Denville, Lincoln Park, Long Hill, Morristown, Pequannock and Riverdale.
Grant applications are considered through 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.
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