Cuomo's proposal to purchase certain coastal properties damaged by Hurricane Sandy and subject to future flooding is a sensible and cost-effective use of federal and state money to reduce New York's vulnerability to devastating coastal flooding, which will not go away given the changing global climate. Land acquisition should be part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce vulnerability to flooding that also includes rebuilding in place to higher standards, the latter an approach favored by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Senator Charles Schumer.
The governor's proposal adds sensible incentives over the existing federal program that might reduce the reluctance of some vulnerable people to move out of harm's way. On the other hand, many communities were flooded for the first time by Sandy with its very unique storm characteristics, and many people in those communities understandably do not want to leave. Thus, New York City is proposing measures to rebuild commercial and residential buildings that would be more resilient to future flooding. There is not one solution to address changing floodplain levels due to climate change, and a state and local plan with options, including the purchase of land for those communities most vulnerable to rising seas, along with funding for rebuilding more flood-resilient structures, should be made available.
Christine A. Fazio is a partner and codirector, and Ethan I. Strell, a senior associate, in the environmental practice group at Carter Ledyard & Milburn. Noah Hertz-Bunzl, an associate, assisted in the preparation of this article.
1. Thomas Kaplan, "Cuomo Seeking Home Buyouts in Flood Zones," N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 3, 2013. See also Transcript of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's 2013 State of the State Address, Jan. 9, 2013, available at https://www.governor.ny.gov/press/01092013sostranscript.
2. 42 U.S.C. §5170c; Sierra Club v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, 446 F.3d 808, 811 (8th Cir. 2006).
3. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hazard Mitigation Assistance, Property Acquisition Buyouts, http://www.fema.gov/application-development-process/hazard-mitigation-assistance-property-acquisition-buyouts.
4. Federal Emergency Management Agency Training, Breaking the Disaster Cycle: Future Directions in Natural Hazard Mitigation, page 7 (2003), available at http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/downloads/breakingdisastercycle/Session04-revised.pdf.
5. Thomas Kaplan, "Cuomo Seeking Home Buyouts in Flood Zones," N.Y. TIMES, Feb. 3, 2013.
6. Id. See also Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, H.R. 152-36.
7. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hazard Mitigation Assistance, Property Acquisition Buyouts, http://www.fema.gov/application-development-process/hazard-mitigation-assistance-property-acquisition-buyouts.
8. Daniel D. Barnhizer, "Givings Recapture: Funding Public Acquisition of Private Property Interests on the Coasts," 27 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 295, 351-52 (2003) (referencing National Wildlife Federation, Higher Ground: A Report on Voluntary Property Buyouts in the Nation's Floodplains (1998), available at http://www.mitigationleadership.com/hrmlf/pdf/Higher_Ground_Report_Voluntary_Property_Buyouts_National_Floodplains.pdf)).