(NEW YORK) — While Superstorm Sandy’s devastation along the New York and New Jersey coastlines six months ago led to enthusiastic calls to rebuild, one Staten Island neighborhood has chosen a different course: sell.
The residents of Oakwood Beach, a small neighborhood that faces the Atlantic Ocean on Staten Island’s southeast coast, held a community meeting days after Sandy had raged through, killing three residents and destroying dozens of homes.
Community leader Joe Tirrone Jr. said it was at that meeting that he casually floated an idea past his neighbors.
“After the storm, we had a community meeting, and just about everybody attended, and one of the things we said was that there is a government program and would anybody be interested in the government buying your home, and everybody raised their hand,” Tirrone said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo offered to pay Oakwood Beach residents 100 percent of their homes’ value before the storm hit, plus a 5 percent bonus if the residents stayed in Richmond County. Now, more than 90 percent of the community has taken steps to participate in the program, Tirrone said.
Cuomo hopes to build a “buffer zone” on the most vulnerable parts of the New York coast to prevent against future storms, he said.
“There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns,” Cuomo said in his annual State of the State address this year. “She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel, and when she comes to visit, she visits.”
Oakwood Beach was located in a particularly low-lying and marshy area. The buyout program would ensure that the land remains “vacant in perpetuity,” said New York state officials.
The small Staten Island community stands in contrast to many other areas hit hard by Sandy, where construction efforts are well underway to repair homes, boardwalks and highways that were destroyed in October.
In Breezy Point, a small community on the tip of New York’s Rockaway peninsula in Queens, residents said immediately after the storm that they would work to rebuild their homes, destroyed by the storm and a resulting fire. Today, construction crews are working to have some of the homes ready by summer.
In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie vowed to rebuild the broken boardwalks and obtain federal funding for residents quickly so that they could begin construction on their homes.
“As a kid who was born and raised in this state and who spent a lot of time over my life, both my childhood and my adult life, at the Jersey Shore, we’ll rebuild it. No question in my mind, we’ll rebuild it,” the governor said last November.
On Monday, Christie announced the approval of $1.83 billion in federal funds for rebuilding and recovery efforts.
Congress approved more than $60 billion in disaster relief funding to help with the rebuilding efforts.
“New Jersey seems to be going for the ‘rebuild stronger and more resilient’ way, those are the two buzzwords they’re using, to elevate the houses and reinforce the need for beach nourishment projects and beach management in general that makes … it more difficult to submerge shoreline,” said Stewart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey.
Farrell said that both approaches, from rebuilding in New Jersey to razing homes in Staten Island, could work if done right.
“Either situation is successful,” he said. “They’re both viable solutions.”
“[Staten Island] did get heavily, heavily damaged, and that doesn’t say that it couldn’t rebuild smarter with barriers or levees installed, or somehow raise everything up substantially, but that it is an expense somebody has to bear. So the fact that 90 percent agreed to a buyout says they had seen the writing on the wall,” Farrell said.
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