By Brenda Flanagan
Miriam Saladin lives in Manville’s infamous Lost Valley. Her family has fled serious flooding three times. Like other victims of Tropical Storm Ida in Manville, she has been waiting two years for federal money to elevate her home. On Monday, Saladin received a state letter offering her one option — take a buyout and move.
Saladin is among about 2,000 Manville residents living in what state officials call a “risk reduction area.” It includes about 17% of Manville’s housing stock located in flood-prone areas between the Millville and Raritan rivers. Instead of paying to elevate these houses, the state wants to buy and raze them under the state’s Blue Acres program.
Richard Onderko, Manville’s mayor, said he feels blindsided. “I think their map is flawed, and they won’t even negotiate with us, to come back and give us any input into the data they used,” said Onderko, who also said he got no warning, no input.
“I’m in favor of buyouts in certain areas, but I’m also in favor of saving ratables and allowing people to elevate their homes — because they want to stay in Manville,” Onderko said. “You keep knocking down homes, we’re going to be under financial distress for a long time.”
Manville is already pocked with empty lots, where homes were bought out under the Blue Acres program following severe floods during hurricanes Floyd and Irene.
The new policy comes from the Department of Community Affairs and the state Office of Emergency Management. The joint decision is based on climate change and scant funding for disaster recovery. The letter to homeowners explains, “Floodplain buyouts are the most permanent and cost-effective alternative for protecting human lives and private property against inevitable future flood events.”
So far, the policy applies only to Manville. Advocates are calling foul at the process.
“What’s happening here is, the state is suddenly revoking options that were previously available,” says Cameron Foster of the New Jersey Organizing Project, which advocates for flood victims. “And it’s even more unacceptable when you consider the buyout process itself is dysfunctional, slow-moving and it doesn’t guarantee a fair payout proportional to the housing market.”
According to the Blue Acres form, applicants will get a Benefit-Cost Analysis if forms are filed by Aug. 21.