2013-07-04 / Front Page

Menendez visits Sayreville neighborhood set for buyouts

By STELLA MORRISON
Staff Writer

SAYREVILLE — U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) paid a visit to a Sayreville neighborhood severely affected by superstorm Sandy June 28 to discuss funding secured for 129 borough homes eligible for the federal buyout program.

Menendez and fellow Sen. Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ) announced earlier last week that a $29.45 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be used to purchase the flood-prone homes. According to Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, 69 homes on Weber Avenue and 60 homes on MacArthur Avenue are part of this round of buyouts.

Through the voluntary property-acquisition program, the government will pay homeowners a price that is determined to be the fair market value, before razing the homes and preserving the land as open space.

“Home is truly where the heart is, and that’s why it’s bittersweet for people to have to leave a house that can no longer be a home because of a natural disaster,” Menendez said after touring the Weber Avenue home of Elaine Konopka. “This funding will play a critical role in New Jersey in long-term recovery and [in] being better prepared to understand severe weather events.”

Menendez said the buyout program is a “lifeline” for those who experienced severe damage during Sandy.

“The funding … [will] get people out of harm’s way and on their way to a better, safer place,” Menendez said. “That place is on a path toward a new home.”

As Menendez walked through Konopka’s home, he could see the waterline left by the storm surge.

“Sandy’s surges went through her home with such force that her freezer was pushed into the upper level of the house,” Menendez said. “That’s no place for a grandmother to be — no place for a loved one, a friend or a neighbor.”

Currently, appraisers are notifying the owners of homes eligible for first-round buyouts that their properties will be evaluated in the upcoming weeks. Gov. Chris Christie previously said that the first closings will take place before Labor Day.

During his visit, Menendez addressed other concerns related to flood damage, including the cost of flood insurance and FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps, which govern structure elevations and have a direct impact on flood insurance rates. FEMA has yet to release ABFEs for Middlesex County.

“It is really a triple whammy to someone who faced the superstorm, then found themselves either trying to rebuild … at the cost of rebuilding in the new flood zones, and then [they] get hit by skyrocketing flood insurance rates,” Menendez said. “It’s really unfair, and it makes it really hard for people to restore their lives.”

Menendez called on FEMA to release the final flood zone maps so that homeowners can rebuild.

“It was made clear to me that flood maps that were originally released from FEMA were flawed because they did not include critical wave analysis,” Menendez said, referring to the “V zones” that require higher elevations due to potential wave height. “If youaretrulyinaVzone,youneedtoknow, but if you’re not and you’re trying to rebuild, then the cost of rebuilding is dramatically higher.”

Menendez also spoke of the federal Saving Homeowners from Onerous Rate Escalation (SHORE) Act, which he introduced in the Senate in May. If passed, the law would slow the increase in flood insurance premiums from up to 25 percent per year over four years to 5 percent each year for the first five years, and then 25 percent per year until premiums are met.

“To me, that’s a cruel burden on those who have already borne enough hardship following superstorm Sandy,” Menendez said. “The SHORE Act would dramatically slow down the cuts to the federal subsidy … [and] would apply to all property, including secondary homes in flood zones.”

Konopka said she hopes that “help is going to be on the way” for her and others in the first round of buyouts.

“The town and everybody in it has been wonderful to us, and all I can say is ‘thank you.’ But please don’t forget us, and please help us,” Konopka said.

Contact Stella Morrison at smorrison@gmnews.com.

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