MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – Morris County’s innovative flood mitigation program hit a milestone in March, turning 10 years old and helping towns to obtain 84 flood-prone properties that have been restored to open space.
The program, which has operated since 2012 through the Morris County Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust, supplements state and federal programs by helping towns obtain flood-prone lots from willing sellers. The county funds go directly to the municipalities, which purchase the properties from willing sellers and must maintain the land as public open space.
“Ten years ago, our board decided to take a sliver of our tax-payer approved open space dollars and dedicate them to buying out flood-prone properties. Right out of the gate, the program won two environmental awards from the State of New Jersey for its innovation. It hadn’t been done before,” said Stephen H. Shaw, a member of the Morris County Board of County Commissioners and liaison to the Morris County Office of Planning and Preservation, which manages the program.
By removing the homes and restoring the properties to open space, the land can better absorb flood waters and protect other nearby properties from flooding. The program also offers communities more open space, helps constantly flooded homeowners move out and even eases burdens on first responders who must occasionally rescue people from their flooded buildings.
To date, the program has allocated $9.6 million to obtain properties in eight Morris County towns.
The Morris County Flood Mitigation Program has been involved in the purchase of 84 properties, with towns using the county funds in conjunction with other funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the New Jersey Green Acres/Blue Acres program and, in some cases, municipal contributions.
Five of the 84 properties were located in the flood-prone Midwood Road section of Lincoln Park, next to the banks of the Pompton River, where a total of 20 homes were purchased, removed and returned to natural lands in recent years. On April 7, that area was under water again after heavy rains hit northern New Jersey, deluging the region and leaving many riverside properties in Morris County flooded.
This time, there were 20 less structures underwater along Midwood Road and the river waters were more quickly absorbed.
On average, for every $1 spent by the county of flood mitigation, there have been $7 in benefits to the participating towns and county, according to the Office of Planning and Preservation.
The Flood Mitigation Program is structured with two basic funding tracks, according to Program Coordinator Virginia Michelin.
- The Match Program offers up to a 25 percent county match to state and federal buyouts.
- The CORE Program is designed to catch homes that have fallen through other agency’s funding nets, with Morris County providing up to 75 percent of the acquisition costs.
Grant applications are considered by the county Flood Mitigation Committee from municipalities on behalf of willing sellers. Every project is subject to a detailed benefit-cost analysis based on FEMA computer models.