Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas — State of New Jersey: Blue Acres Buyout Program

Established in 1995, the New Jersey Blue Acres Buyout Program is a nationally recognized example of a longstanding, state-run buyout program. Blue Acres works closely with municipalities throughout the state to identify privately owned properties that are routinely threatened or flooded due to sea-level rise and more frequent weather events. The program’s experience with buyouts positioned the state to respond quickly to purchase properties from willing residents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The program works directly with local governments to prioritize comprehensive buyouts of affected neighborhoods, instead of individual properties, and restores and protects the properties to maximize the flood and cost-reduction benefits for communities and the environment. To accomplish effective state-local coordination, the program has a diversified staff that meets local needs including case workers who work directly with participants in each buyout area, and a financial team that negotiates mortgage forgiveness with banks and other financial lenders on behalf of homeowners.

Blue Acres was established with $15 million in funding from the Green Acres, Farmland, Historic Preservation and Blue Acres Bond Act of 1995. Additional funding was provided in two different bond acts in 2007 and 2009. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Blue Acres secured nearly $300 million in federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program and Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery program. In 2019, the New Jersey Legislature passed a constitutional measure to provide a sustainable source of funding for Blue Acres from a portion of the state’s Corporate Business Tax. As climate change worsens and makes extreme weather events more common, other states and local governments may increasingly evaluate the potential for buyouts, particularly in coastal jurisdictions. Decisionmakers could consider institutionalizing buyouts as a part of comprehensive climate adaptation and coastal and floodplain management strategies to encourage neighborhoods to relocate to safer, higher ground areas and restore ecosystems to attain flood, natural resources, and other community benefits.

 

This case study is one of 17 case studies featured in a report written by the Georgetown Climate Center, Managing the Retreat from Rising Seas: Lessons and Tools from 17 Case Studies. Each case study tells a different story about how states, local governments, and communities across the country are approaching questions about managed retreat. Together, the case studies highlight how different types of legal and policy tools are being considered and implemented across a range of jurisdictions  from urban, suburban, and rural to riverine and coastal — to help support new and ongoing discussions on the subject. These case studies are intended to provide transferable lessons and potential management practices for coastal state and local policymakers evaluating managed retreat as one part of a strategy to adapt to climate change on the coast. 

For additional case studies and more information about managed retreat, also see Georgetown Climate Center's Managed Retreat Toolkit.

 

Publication Date: July 15, 2020

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