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What is Blue Acres? New Jersey DEP program aims to help homeowners impacted by increasing flooding

NJ DEP's Blue Acres program aims to help homeowners impacted by floodwaters
NJ DEP's Blue Acres program aims to help homeowners impacted by floodwaters 03:31

SOUTHAMPTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (CBS) - As New Jersey families faced another round of storms Tuesday, flooding in low-lying areas continued to be a major problem.

New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn LaTourette and other state environmental leaders say climate change will only make flooding worse in the future.

"The number one issue that we hear about is increasing flood risks all over the state of New Jersey," LaTourette said. "We know that it's happening, it's not a what if. It's a question of how bad."

One potential solution to prevent families from losing their homes to flooding is to retreat instead of fight.


That's the idea behind New Jersey DEP's Blue Acres program. It's a program in which the state buys up homes in flood-prone areas and tears them down, creating open green space, which New Jersey's Chief Resilience Officer Nick Angarone said can absorb floodwaters.

"That property kind of takes on some of that flooding, which would otherwise, perhaps, be in someone else's living room," Angarone said.

Since 1995, the state has bought up more than 1,000 homes.

The program is strictly voluntary, and the state buys the homes at a market rate.

Each family who chooses to go through the program gets assigned a case manager.

"They go out and sometimes literally hold people's hands in their living room and help them through the process," Angarone said.

It's a process Orly Buday's family went through.

Living along the North Branch of the Rancocas Creek sometimes meant frightening thoughts flooding into the minds of Buday's family.

"Every time that it rained," Buday said, "we used to stay up and worry that our house was going to get flooded."

The worst flooding they received was during a rainstorm in June 2019.

"When we walked out of here, the water was literally up to here," Buday said, putting her arm to her chest. "Everything on the first floor was destroyed. Our oil tank upended so there was also the oil smell that permeated everything. Everything."

Her family came to a realization - it was time to move out of the neighborhood.

"It wasn't safe for our kids to be here anymore," Buday said.

Excavator tears through Orly Buday's family home

Buday's family watched together as an excavator tore through their home.

"For a few minutes the tears come because you remember all the good things that were here," Buday said. "But at the same time, it's a very grateful feeling knowing that we are living someplace where our house will not flood again."

But flooding will happen again, whether it's in-land or along the Jersey Shore, whether it's from an extreme storm or sea level rise, which leads to the question of whether whole neighborhoods in the Garden State will pack up and abandon their homes.

"I think that we are at the beginning of the beginning of that conversation," LaTourette said. "I think Blue Acres has made that conversation a bit easier."

But he said it's harder to envision entire communities pick up and move to new locations.

"I don't see a big retreat agenda in our future because in many ways, there's nowhere to retreat to," LaTourette said. "Every different area of our state will have a distinct climate experience. The question is how we prepare ourselves for it. "

He said Blue Acres is just one answer, and for Buday, the program gave her family a reprieve from staying up at night, no longer having to wait for the water, and the anxiety, to come flooding in.

"We can actually go to bed and sleep," Buday said.

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