New Jersey Future Holds Informal Discussion on Mystic Island Buyouts

Mar 05, 2016
Photo by: Pat Johnson Mystic Island residents meet with New Jersey Future manager David Kutner (seated) and Karen Lowrie of the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.

A handful of Little Egg Harbor residents came an hour before Little Egg Harbor Township’s scheduled Feb. 25 municipal meeting to hear about a proposed plan that held out a faint promise of Blue Acres buyouts of properties located in the flood hazard zone on the east side of Radio Road.

New Jersey Future local project manager David Kutner and Karen Lowrie of Rutgers University held an informal meeting in the hallway outside the courtroom in the Justice Complex to discuss the Health Impact Assessment they had worked on.

The assessment used answers to questionnaires from 120 people who had attended a series of New Jersey Future community meetings in 2014, and also a report from the Ocean County Health Department on the stresses people were experiencing during and after Superstorm Sandy.

“The report from the county health department had an incredible array of issues: drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, depression and something like post traumatic stress disorder,” said Kutner.

The Health Impact Assessment made some draft recommendations including a “theoretical” buyout of flood-prone properties. The report suggested a buyout of 100 properties clustered on the east side of Radio Road on the edge of the salt marsh in Mystic Island and then a buyout of 500 clustered units.

It suggested the town could then build a sea wall or elevate Radio Road in order to protect the properties on the west side of the road.

The report also researched the impacts on the tax base of these theoretical buyouts.

The state has $300 million from the Sandy Disaster Fund set aside for buyouts in areas with repetitive flooding, noted Lowrie, who works at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers. “We wanted to propose something that made sense. We wanted to put a health lens on the impacts of doing nothing.”

“A lot of things would have to happen first,” said Kutner. “The town has to engage with Blue Acres.”

Blue Acres is the name of the program run through the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection, much like the more familiar Green Acres program, but instead of focusing on preserving woodlands and farms, it concentrates on buying seaside and riverside properties that are prone to repetitive flooding.

Kutner acknowledged the municipality would have to encourage people to seek a buyout. Like Green Acres, Blue Acres accepts properties only from willing sellers.

One resident asked if the buyout would be based on the post-Sandy price of his property; Kutner said that it would be based on the pre-Sandy assessment. Another asked how this would affect the tax rate for those who would be left; Kutner said that eventually, the loss of taxes through a buyout of the houses would even out with the reduction in services to the no longer existing neighborhoods.  He also said additional open space might be used for eco-tourism.

When it was time for the municipal meeting to start, both Kutner and Lowrie were told they would be first to present their Health Impact Assessment.

Because they did not bring a projector, the PowerPoint presentation they had prepared was shelved for a less formal presentation, like that given in the hallway.

They also gave handouts to the mayor and committee of the summary draft recommendations.

Lowrie noted that the Pew Charitable Trust and the Robert Wood Johnson Trust paid for the HIA study and that it was the first-ever Health Impact Assessment prepared in a post-disaster community. She stated that 1,000 homes had been substantially damaged in Mystic Island, and most houses were still very vulnerable to storms and the impact of sea-level rise.

“We have to ask questions of a particular nature – what decisions can be made to improve that scenario?

“A very small slice of the big picture is a voluntary buyout and whether supporting a voluntary buyout would affect the health of the community into the future.”

Kutner reiterated his hallway presentation and added that the economic implications of the theoretical buyout would be available at a future juncture.

Mayor Gene Kobryn suggested then that the presentation be halted until the committee would have time to look over the handouts and when the economic implications become available.

Pat Johnson



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