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NY Governor Proposes Post-Sandy Conservation Over Reconstruction

Cuomo: 'There are some parcels that Mother Nature owns'

Lauren McCauley, staff writer

An image of coastal community, the Rockaways, after Sandy swept through. (Photo: ma neeks via flickr)

In a rare move for coastal preservation, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo is rebuking the trend of knee-jerk rebuilding and rampant coastline development by proposing a buyout of flood-prone properties damaged by Superstorm Sandy to restore as wetlands and other "natural buffers."

On Friday, the Governor's aides presented their hurricane response plan, including the proposed buyout program, to federal officials. The state is proposing to spend as much as $400 million of the $51 billion disaster relief package, which Congress approved last week, on the purchase of the "10,000 or so homes built on the 100-year flood plain."

As NBC Meteorologist John Morales wrote on Twitter, "Finally! Someone proposes a better idea than 'we shall rebuild!'"

The New York Times reports:

Residents living in flood plains with homes that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value of their houses to relocate; those in even more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell; and in a small number of highly flood-prone areas, the state would double the bonus if an entire block of homeowners agreed to leave.

The land would never be built on again. Some properties could be turned into dunes, wetlands or other natural buffers that would help protect coastal communities from ferocious storms; other parcels could be combined and turned into public parkland.

“At one point, you have to say maybe Mother Nature doesn’t want you here. Maybe she’s trying to tell you something,” Cuomo told the New York Daily News. And last month in his State of the State address, the Governor alluded to the plan, declaring “there are some parcels that Mother Nature owns."

The widespread destruction caused by Sandy has renewed the call for the preservation of protective coastal features, such as wetlands and dunes, and enhanced scrutiny of intense coastal development—particularly in the face of global warming-enhanced storm systems. The proposed purchase program is evidence that governments may be heeding nature's call.

“Sandy showed us that coastal states and communities need effective strategies, tools and resources to conserve, protect, and restore coastal habitats and economies at risk from current environmental stresses and a changing climate," said Margaret A. Davidson of NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.

The state is still waiting on approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but Cuomo is reportedly optimistic that details of the program will be announced in the next two weeks.

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