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N.J. targets 700 homes for buyouts after Sandy

Most of the flood-prone sites identified for acquisition and demolition are inland. The program seeks willing sellers.

New Jersey has identified nearly 700 homes it plans to buy and demolish as part of an effort to move people out of flood-prone areas.

Most of the homes targeted for acquisition and demolition are in areas away from the Shore, where Hurricane Sandy did its worst damage.

Bob Considine, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that was because there were "very few willing sellers in these towns. They've all been approached."

A key feature of the Blue Acres program is identifying willing sellers in close proximity to one another. New Jersey officials say that acquiring scattered homes in otherwise intact neighborhoods would do little to reduce property damage from future storms. And people cannot be forced to sell their homes under the program.

Once acquisitions are completed, the homes will be razed, and the land will be permanently maintained by the municipalities as open space that can absorb flood waters during future storms. Buyouts also may enable local governments to create or expand active or passive public recreation areas.

"We continue to work hard to get willing-seller families, whose lives were battered by . . . Sandy, out of harm's way from future floods, and to give them an opportunity to restart their lives," said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. "We remain committed to helping these people get through the buyout process and to move on as quickly as possible."

The DEP says it has identified 695 homes statewide for buyouts. The most recent additions are in Middlesex County: 89 homes in Woodbridge and a seven-home neighborhood in East Brunswick. Appraisals have been completed for each of those homes, and offers are being made to their owners.

So far, 186 property owners have accepted buyout offers, and 73 closings have occurred in two other Middlesex County municipalities, Sayreville and South River.

The Blue Acres program is working on potential buyouts in Atlantic Highlands, Linden, Old Bridge, Newark, and Lawrence Township, Cumberland County, in addition to other sections of Sayreville, South River, and Woodbridge not covered under the initial buyout offers. A special team within the program is contacting potential sellers directly and offering to guide them through the sale process.

Gov. Christie's administration has committed more than $300 million in federal Sandy-recovery funding to the buyout program. It eventually hopes to acquire 1,000 properties in tidal areas affected by Sandy and an additional 300 properties in the Passaic River Basin and other areas subject to repetitive flooding, though funding has not been identified for all those purchases.