Feb 06

Mr. Cuomo’s Sandy Plan Editorial

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York wants to spend as much as $400 million to buy and raze damaged homes in the floodplains of New York State. These properties, victims of Hurricane Sandy, would then be turned into parks, bird sanctuaries, dunes or simply stretches of open beach, serving as buffer zones to protect residents inland from future floods.

It is, in concept, a splendid idea. It needs federal approval, and there are many details to be worked out. But assuming enough homeowners go along, it offers a promising approach to minimizing future damage from the hundred-year storms that seem to be arriving with increasing frequency in this age of climate change.

The governor’s plan would pay the full prestorm value of a house to owners who agreed to sell, with a 5 percent bonus to those who relocated in their home county. The plan would be voluntary; a homeowner could simply refuse to participate, and presumably elect to rebuild, despite higher insurance rates that doing so would entail.

The Cuomo administration estimates that 10,000 or so homes sit squarely in the danger zone, but, only a fraction — 10 percent to 15 percent — of these owners might actually participate in this program. The plan would not cover high-end properties like a wreck of a beachfront house in the Rockaways that is now on sale for $3 million “as is.” But the price tag could go as high as $300,000 per dwelling, assuming the Department of Housing and Urban Development approves the plan.

For those who chose to stay, the administration would offer another option: grants to help owners flood-proof their homes. That could include rebuilding a house on or near the beach on giant pylons at least 2 feet above the projected flood level, which could mean 15 feet or more above ground level — a costly prospect.

On the face of it, the buyouts look like a good deal for homeowners — certainly far better than waiting around for federal help or for private insurance companies to pay enough for repairs. Not that they will be an easy sell. In The Times article by Thomas Kaplan describing Mr. Cuomo’s idea, a Rockaway resident whose basement was flooded was quoted as saying, “Nobody wants to leave here. Where would I go? To Astoria? To Brooklyn? No!”

New Yorkers and others in the Northeast — officials and residents alike — are still a long way from figuring out how to protect the shoreline from rising waters and stronger storms. But buying damaged properties and returning them to their natural state, as Mr. Cuomo proposes, is one of the best ideas to come along.