Keansburg to Benefit From Blue Acres Program

KEANSBURG — Every day that Alisen Hughes and her mother leave their Creek Road home in Keansburg, their view of quiet marshland and a sun-dappled stream is marred by a derelict, rotting house across the street.
That house, precariously balanced on a narrow slip of land between Creek Road and Waackaack Creek, is on a list of neighboring houses slated to be torn down due to the expansion of a state program that purchases and demolishes flood-prone property. 
Hughes and her mother, Virginia, listened from their porch Monday as Gov. Chris Christie, standing between their home and the abandoned house, announced an additional $75 million would go to New Jersey's Blue Acres program, a $300 million pool of federal disaster recovery money used to purchase such oft-flooded properties and convert the parcels to open space, parks and buffers against future storm surges.

"Having met with so many homeowners who saw their homes flooded and their lives upended, not just during (superstorm) Sandy but repeatedly before that, I fully comprehend that these families lived with worry every time it rained," Christie said from a podium flanked on either side by abandoned homes.
"It's the Blue Acres program that continues to help people like these, not just in Sandy-hit areas but across our state in 14 different municipalities," he said.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the program, offers homeowners prices for their houses at pre-Sandy values. The point is to encourage residents to move to safer, less flood-prone areas. Those properties, in turn, become parkland and open space, said Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin."As the storm surges come in, it's a place for the water to seep into, and so it provides both that barrier (and) open space, and a place for the water to go," he said.

The Hughes women welcome Blue Acres into their neighborhood and hope to see the state demolish two abandoned homes across Creek Road from their home.They said the collapsing structures lower the value of their neighborhood. 

Virginia Hughes said one of the empty homes, which has gaping holes in the roof and a glassless bay window, have become a haven for raccoons and vandals.

 "It's beautiful beyond all the trash," Alisen Hughes said, pointing to the marsh and creek beyond.Keansburg Mayor George Hoff said Blue Acres will be important to the future of this neighborhood, where the Waackaack Creek has eroded property lines and damaged the foundations of homes built between the road and the water's edge.

More than 1,800 Keansburg homes were damaged during Sandy, and more than 300 are still unoccupied five years after the storm, Hoff said. Inland homeowners can rebuild higher on pilings, but these Creek Road homes along the Waackaack have little land left on which to build. Being a low-lying spot in the borough also makes them vulnerable to any flooding, he said.

Once the homes are removed, "we're hoping to expand upon our bulkhead that we just built two years ago, and expand it down here for the neighbors, (add) a walkway, and hopefully a launch ramp for either canoes or kayaks," he said.

Keansburg is not the only municipality in Ocean and Monmouth counties ready to benefit from the additional Blue Acres money. Department of Environmental Protection staff are also working with homeowners in flood-prone neighborhoods in Brick, Stafford, Neptune and other towns throughout New Jersey, said Martin, the environmental commissioner.

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