After Irene, Buyouts Turning Neighborhood into Ghost Town
Purchasing homes and knocking them down have been the solution of choice for many in Wayne.
The buying out of homes is transforming the Hoffman Grove section of town.
Several streets have only a few houses on them. Other homes are boarded up and marked for demolition. Caution tape wrapped around trees and poles mark the boundary of some lots. Patches of dirt are the only evidence that a house once existed on others. Soon, they’ll be covered with grass.
The streets are errily quite. Outdoor activities usually associated with a family-friendly town like Wayne: walking a dog, jogging, or bike riding, don't seem to happen here.
Although some clean up work of local waterways has occurred in Wayne since Tropical Storm Irene, buying out homes is the solution residents and local officials have embraced the most in response to the ongoing issue of flooding.
After the storm, many residents living in low-lying sections of town were quick to call on municipal, state, and federal officials to buy their homes so they could move and get a fresh start.
“It is the only way that permanently takes people out of harms’ way,” said Sandy Galecio, coordinator of the township’s Office of Emergency Management. “We look at getting people out of harm’s way and not being exposed to the dangers of floods, not only for the monetary losses that they suffer, but for the safety of their families.”
Residents are given fair market value for their homes. The homes are knocked down and the land they're on leveled with no further interference from people. Participating is voluntary.
The town has already purchased and knocked down 71 homes in town; another 24 more in the Hoffman Grove section of town are slated to be bought out. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds the program.
But some residents and local politicians have been critical of the programs, saying they do not treat the problem of flooding, merely a symptom of it.
“They take too long and they don’t stop flooding from happening,” Ken Doremus, a Riverlawn Drive resident previously said. Doremus is still rebuilding his home after floodwater form Irene destroyed it.
Galecio estimates the town has spent $15 to $16 million on buyouts since 2005.
A Permanent Solution?
Assemblyman Scott Rumana said that only homes that flood when a severe storm occurs and whose value has decreased dramatically should be bought out. He said that buying out all the homes in the Passaic River Basin would cost $7 billion.
“You’re still going to get the same flooding. You’re not going to buy out all of these properties and the water is going to be absorbed and it’s all going to go away,” said Rumana, a former mayor of Wayne.
The DEP has set aside $2 million in Green Acre funds and is working on getting another $8 million to help purchase 174 properties in the basin that qualify to be bought out. That mitigation strategy is one of many laid out in an updated 15-point plan on flooding in the basin the DEP released in April.
Buying out all of the structures and properties would eliminate thousands of jobs that the local economy depends on to survive, Rumana said.
State and federal officials examined constructing a flood tunnel that would divert floodwater out to Newark Bay years ago, but the project was abandoned.
“If you do nothing about the problem, you’re going to spend 10 times more than you would ever spend trying to fix the problem without the tunnel project,” Rumana said.
The project had a projected cost of $2.8 billion.
Rumana said that the Army Corps of Engineers estimates that between $3 and $4 billion has been spent on cleaning up and repairing homes and businesses in the Passaic River Basin in the past six or seven years after flood events.
“Not addressing the problem is only going to keep making that number go up,” Rumana said. “If you think the American public is going to stand for its own citizens being left in a condition where their homes are destroyed and there’s no relief, that’s never going to happen.”