By Lauren Wanko
Woodbridge resident Tina Calabrese feels she’s left with no choice but to take a state buyout.
“Because if I don’t, there’s a possibility my flood insurance will go as high that I can’t afford to pay for it,” Calabrese said.
Calabrese’s house is one of 89 homes in Woodbridge the Christie administration will buy out from willing sellers impacted by Superstorm Sandy. The goal? To preserve the land as open space and protect against future flooding; $26.3 million in federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding will cover the costs.
“These are homes that would typically flood with a full moon and high tide. It doesn’t even have to rain for these homes to flood. They’re right up against the river and always in harm’s way,” said Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac.
So far the Department of Environmental Protection’s Blue Acres Program has made 272 buyout offers in Sayreville and South River; 155 of those offers have been accepted by residents in both towns. And the Blue Acres program’s closed on 27 Sayreville homes.
McCormac says the buyout program is good for the entire community.
“People are literally in harm’s way when there’s a storm. A lot of people don’t leave their homes and then we have to send people and put them at risk — public safety people, police, fire,” McCormac said.
Still, for Calabrese, the idea of not living here with her family brings her to tears.
“Forty years, I raise my children here and it’s my home,” she said.
Calabrese says she’ll only agree to the buyout if she’s pleased with the offer. The administration says independent licensed appraisers hired by the state will conduct the property appraisals, which will be predominately based on the value of the property before Sandy. Those appraisals are the basis for the amounts offered to each homeowner. If residents aren’t satisfied, they can hire their own appraiser and appeal. The administration’s buyout program is targeting about 1,300 properties in the state and is working on potential buyouts in about half a dozen towns.
As for Calabrese, if she decides to take the buyout, she hopes to stay in Woodbridge.
The mayor says he’s committed to helping residents like Calabrese do just that — stay here in town.