City pushing for flood buyouts of village businesses and homes

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By Jay Braman Jr.
The City of New York has long been in the land-buying business in the Catskills, but its real estate options expanded last month when it earmarked millions of dollars to buy homes and businesses, in some cases in the middle of hamlets and villages, that fall victim to frequent flooding.
The program will make at least $15 million dollars of new funding from New York City available to acquire properties from willing sellers whose homes are currently located in dangerous flood zones in the Catskill and Delaware watersheds. The city will offer localities the opportunity to own any of the acquired properties, which will only be utilized as green space or recreational lands from then on. 
The new program will not compete with FEMA buyout programs. Properties that don’t fit into the FEMA buyout would be eligible under the city’s buyout, but only if local governments allow it.
But the buyouts will proceed only with local municipal support and, at this time, the amount of that support is unclear.

A last resort
In Fleischmanns, a community that was hit hard by flooding during Hurricane Irene, Mayor Todd Pascarella sees participation as a matter of last resort.
“We lost so many buildings in the flood and are going to lose at least a couple more off the tax rolls to pending FEMA buyouts,” he said Monday. “Hence I am not excited to say the least about the prospect of even more properties being bought out and taken off the tax rolls if for nothing other than the strain it is putting on our finances, not to mention the limited room for development we have.”

Wants more info
Pascarella said Fleischmanns needs more information before allowing the city to start buying.
“We are right now actively engaged with the Local Flood Analysis process and my goal is to exhaust every alternative available in terms of making the village more flood resilient without losing any more properties. There is still a lot of low-hanging fruit to pursue including clearing out the floodplain areas and setting bridge dimensions to pass more floodwaters.
“In the end, if it comes down to the fact that people are proven to still be in harm’s way and nothing else can be done, then I think we would have to have the discussion about whether they could be relocated to a safer place without being eliminated altogether from the community,” the mayor added.
Margaretville Mayor Diana Cope could not be reached for comment, but Deputy Mayor Dave Budin said Monday that village officials are now reviewing the details of the program and that there are some “concerns” but did he not elaborate. Budin added that the trustees have yet to make a decision on whether or not to participate.

Identifying parcels
Identification and selection of properties will be undertaken jointly by communities and the city, while direct solicitation of landowners will be spearheaded by the local community.
Eric Goldstein of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that helped prepare the program, said he was pleased to see it finalized and active. “We know that properties eligible for this program are currently located in dangerous flood zones that will be subject to repeated flooding in years to come,” he said.  “Thus, this program will help save lives, allow property owners to recoup the fair market value of their homes and move out of harm’s way, while reducing risks that sewage and other pollutants will end up in local waterways following the next big storm.”
Funding for this program is small potatoes compared to the cities much larger land acquisition program, which calls for $241 million to be set aside over the next three years for purchasing vacant land watershed wide.