STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Give the shoreline back to Mother Nature.
Staten Island lawmakers on Monday said they backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s ambitious proposal to buy and demolish homes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and permanently preserve the land as underveloped coastline.
“Some portions of Staten Island should be ceded back to Mother Nature,” said City Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn). “It’s good to hear a clear-throated statement that this is going to be one of the tools in the toolbox.”
Under the $400 million proposal, residents with homes that suffered significant damage would be offered the pre-storm value of their homes to move elsewhere, according to a report in The New York Times.
The purchase plan would require federal approval, since it would be paid for using a portion of the $51 billion disaster relief package approved by Congress last week.
Cuomo presented his plan to federal officials in Washington on Friday.
Borough President James Molinaro said he’d worked with Cuomo’s office, sending maps of neighborhoods that might be right for buyouts, including storm-damaged homes as well as dwellings in wetlands.
“It’s a great idea,” Molinaro said. “It would increase the safety of the houses that remain, give them some room out there.”
Oddo said Oakwood Beach is to his mind the “epicenter” of where the buyouts should be offered.
Joseph Tirone, who leads the neighborhood committee to work toward a buyout, said more than 150 homeowners have indicated they would sell.
“Those make a lot of sense to purchase for open space,” Oddo said. “It’s a strategic, common-sense application of a buyout, which is going to redefine the shoreline.”
He added that he thought the total number of homes that would eventually be bought out would be less than 500, but Molinaro said the number could be higher.
Oddo also said there was concern that some people in the worst-hit areas might want to stay, even if the vast majority of their neighbors want to get out.
“If you buy 150 homes, can you really leave three standing?” Oddo said. “That’s a concern.”
Samantha Langello bought her Oakwood Beach home five years ago, and has seen damage from storms every year. Sandy submerged her entire first floor.
Ms. Langello acknowledged that it was her choice to live in the neighborhood but said her sister had lived three doors away for several years and never had a problem.
“You just don’t think of New York as a place for hurricanes to hit,” she said. “I wasn’t even told until the closing that I was in Flood Zone A.”
Ms. Langello sees a buyout as perhaps the only way to avoid financial ruin.
“We have no intention of going back, whether we get bought out or not,” she said. “It’s clearly not a safe place to live.”
“Certain neighborhoods on Staten Island — such as Oakwood Beach — lie in highly flood-prone areas, making them prime candidates for this type of program,” said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island/Brooklyn). “It simply doesn’t make sense for a homeowner to invest the funds to rebuild in a flood plain, knowing disaster could strike again.”
Under Cuomo’s plan, homeowners in more vulnerable areas or where an entire block agrees to move could be given bonuses in order to sell out.
The land could be turned into sand dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers, according to The Times. Other pieces of land could be turned into parks.
The Times says federal officials appeared receptive to the idea. Cuomo said he hopes to announce details about the program in the next two weeks.
“The people have spoken,” said Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-South Shore). “They want to voluntarily offer their homes up. You can’t fight Mother Nature. In some of these areas, she’s winning these wars.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) said her office had received about 35 calls from people asking about buyouts in Oakwood Beach, New Dorp Beach and Midland Beach.
“It can’t come soon enough,” she said. “People are ready to move on. They need the funds to do so.”
The Times said that Cuomo would offer owners the pre-storm full market value of their houses in the 100-year flood plain that were substantially damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
There could be 10,000 or so of those homes.
Homeowners who chose to relocate within their home county would receive a 5 percent bonus above the market value, as part of a government effort to encourage them to stay nearby.
State officials said they were planning for the possibility that 10 to 15 percent of those eligible would take the buyout.
Residents of more vulnerable areas would be permitted to sell their homes even if the homes suffered little, or possibly even no, damage from the hurricane, and the state would pay them an additional 10 percent bonus above market value to sweeten the deal, The Times said.
In a few dozen blocks located in areas of extreme risk, the state would offer another 10 percent bonus if every homeowner on the block agreed to sell.
A spokesman for a storm task force created by President Barack Obama in December said it’s too soon to say whether New York will be allowed to proceed.
– Associated Press material was used in this report.