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Mass. Lawmakers Debate Waterfront Home Buyback Program On Plum Island

Plum Island (CBS) - It was just two years ago, Plum Island homeowners watched as houses fell into the ocean. Since then, they've been working to re-build and to shore up the beach against more erosion.

"When it first happens, people's reaction is they want their home back. It's very emotional. "A couple years later, they might want the buyback and not the aggravation," says Ron Barrett, President of the Plum Island Taxpayers and Associates.

A waterfront home buyback program has already unanimously passed the state Senate as part of a climate change bill and is on its way to the House.

The state would give homeowners whose houses are consistently damaged by storms fair market value for the property. It would then become public beach access.

Supporters say it is cheaper than fixing homes time and again. Since private insurance will not cover these homes, they are forced to buy FEMA flood insurance, a program backed by federal taxpayers.

"The federal flood insurance program is 28 billion dollars in debt so we're all paying for this," says Jack Clarke of the Massachusetts Audubon Society. "We save lives, we save taxpayer dollars and we save the environment."

Environmental groups pushed the proposal, but it's also backed by Senator Bruce Tarr, a Republican who represents Plum Island and other North Shore communities.

Hundreds of homes up and down the coast could be eligible and as many as 50 on Plum Island alone.

"Now there's a sense of urgency because the storms are bigger and there's a sense of urgency," Clarke says.

Barrett supports the program as well, but cautions, it is a last resort. Plum Island residents don't give up easily. Most, he says, would prefer to take measures to save their beach rather than give up their homes.

"It's the last tool you pull out, but it's a tool in the tool box," he said of the program.

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