Cuomo considers buyouts to waterfront residents, while Bloomberg demurs

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Fox Beach after a recent storm. (Joseph Tirone)
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Governor Andrew Cuomo thinks the state should offer voluntary buyouts to residents of waterfront homes badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

He said as much in his State of the State speech earlier this month, and again this week, during an interview with the Daily News that ran today.

“At one point, you have to say maybe Mother Nature doesn’t want you here," he said. "Maybe she’s trying to tell you something."

The idea, endorsed by climate change experts like Klaus Jacob, is that the most effective form of storm-damage mitigation is to retreat from neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to flooding.

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Not only is it an effective way to mitigate the impacts of future storms, but it would also, presumably, prove more cost-effective than repairing flood-damaged homes every few years, for years on end.

Some residents of Staten Island's Fox Beach neighborhood, which suffered three deaths during Hurricane Sandy, agree, have been seeking government buyouts that would make residents financially whole and thereby enable them to move, permanently, to higher, safer ground.

It's not clear what funding mechanism the governor is looking at, but following Hurricane Irene, the state relied on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Residents can only tap into the program after first convincing their local municipality to petition the state, which, in turn, petitions the federal government.

The problem facing Fox Beach residents is that they will need Mayor Michael Bloomberg to launch that process. And his emphasis following Hurricane Sandy has been on rebuilding, not on retreat.

Today, when asked about the governor's comments, Bloomberg's spokeswoman, Lauren Passalacqua sent over the following, noncommittal statement: "Buyouts are just one of many potential mitigation strategies that the City will consider, working closely with the communities most impacted by Sandy. Other strategies, including raising electric and other critical systems to higher floors and increasing coastal protections, are on the table, and may be used depending on the neighborhood and geographic areas in question."

"We were all so excited about it, I can't tell you," said Joseph Tirone, who owns a home in Fox Beach and has organized residents pushing for a buyout, referring to the governor's comments. "It's really awesome."