The Morris County Freeholders gave the go-ahead to releasing matching funds to a county effort to buy severely flood-damaged properties in four municipalities including Parsippany. If the measure wins final approval, 26 township properties can become permanently preserved open space.
The purchases would be made under the new Morris County Flood Mitigation Program, and would cover a total of 67 properties in Parsippany, Denville, Pequannock and Lincoln Park.
With the freeholders' preliminary approval, it authorized spending $5 million in county grant funds to provide a 25 percent match for the $14.5 million in Hurricane Irene hazard mitigation funds received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to Jennifer McCulloch, the program's coordinator.
"FEMA pays municipalities 75 percent of the cost, and this will cover the other 25 percent," she explained, "Parsippany can begin to prepare to move forward."
The freeholders' final approval, she added, will cover the individual properties allowed to be purchased.
But the money is available now, McCulloch said: The four towns may now proceed with their “due diligence,” including appraisals, surveys, environmental assessments and negotiating a purchase price with homeowners.
Morris County will provide up to 75 percent of the $1.2 million acquisition costs with the remainder provided by the state Department of Envinronmental Protection's Green Acres program, McCulloch said.
The freeholders established the Flood Mitigation Program last March in response to increased, repetitive flooding in the county, especially the excessive flooding caused by Hurricane Irene in 2011, said Freeholder Ann Grossi, a Parsippany resident.
“Hurricane Irene brought to our attention the cycle of repetitive flooding that so many of our communities are struggling with,” Grossi said. “In the wake of that disaster, the freeholders felt strongly that a more proactive approach could be developed to permanently move people out of harm’s way and reduce the destruction from flooding.”
The freeholder noted this is the first county-level dedicated flood mitigation program in the state.
“The main objectives of the program are to move people out of harm’s way and create natural, sustainable flood storage areas which protect the remaining homeowners, businesses and properties,” McCulloch said.
The Flood Mitigation program is an expansion of the Morris County Open Space, Farmland, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. It was initially funded by $16 million of unencumbered funds allocated to the Morris County Agriculture Development Board, Grossi said.
Future funding levels for the program will be determined on an annual basis.
Committee members operate within a unique set of regulations created specifically for this program, and they report directly to the freeholder board.
Under the program's terms, grant applications will be considered from municipalities only for the acquisition of residences, and lands associated with the residences, that have experienced either severe repetitive flooding, or homes that have sustained over 50 percent damage from a single flood event, said McCulloch.
Applications not funded through this program may subsequently apply to the traditional Morris County Open Space Program for funding to purchase the land only.
Costs for demolition, elevation or other non-acquisition mitigation techniques are not eligible under the county’s program.
Mcculloch said the program will work only with willing homeowners, and that all funds would go directly to the municipality, which will then buy the land and maintain it as public, open space in perpetuity.
Those who need additional information can find it at the Morris County Department of Planning and Development or call Jennifer McCulloch at 973-829-8120.