When federal recovery money started trickling into New Jersey after Sandy, Coleman learned that she could apply for an elevation grant. But raising her house on stilts seemed silly if her car and the road were still on the ground. During Irene, she had witnessed what happens during a storm surge. “The high tide rushes in, and water envelops the entire area in no time at all,” she says. “The street becomes a river within a river.” Coleman didn’t want to be “made whole,” in the parlance of disaster-recovery law, if it meant rebuilding in place. Her stress levels spiked every time it rained during high tide. She didn’t feel safe, physically or financially.
While commiserating with a neighbor, Coleman heard about a program called Blue Acres. Its premise struck her as radically sensible: The government would “buy out” her repeatedly flooded property at its prestorm value instead of paying to repair it yet again. Demolition crews would then knock down the house and remove other markers of human habitation. She would transfer the deed to the state, and redevelopment would be blocked, forever.
Compared with selling her house, this process seemed overwhelming. But even if she could find a willing buyer, how could she ethically transfer this vulnerability to someone else? “All of us who live in high-risk flood zones were taken advantage of somewhere along the line,” Coleman says. “This was a way to end that cycle.”