ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- New Jersey has offered to buy 272 homes in flood-prone zones of Sayreville and South River, the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner said Thursday.
So far, 125 owners have accepted the offer, and 22 sales have been closed, Commissioner Robert Martin said.
The state's Blue Acres program uses federal and state money to buy homes deemed especially likely to flood. The state plans to buy 1,300 homes for what they were worth before Superstorm Sandy under its $300 million program.
Martin said his agency plans to extend the program to areas of the Jersey shore that were hard-hit by the Oct. 2012 storm, including Union Beach, Atlantic Highlands and Neptune.
But in seeking to maximize its effectiveness, the program focuses on communities in which groups of contiguous houses can be bought together instead of buying individual properties that would leave but a small gap in an otherwise intact street. The buildings will be razed and the land left uninhabited to create flood barriers for remaining neighborhoods.
So far, the state has not gotten a sizeable response from willing sellers in the four oceanfront counties of Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic and Cape May, Martin said.
"We've got to have willing sellers," he said. "Even if the mayor says 'I like this area' (to participate in buyouts), you've got to have people step up and say, 'I'm willing to sell.' "
Nonetheless, the DEP has had talks with officials and residents in some Sandy-impacted shore neighborhoods that could be included in future buyouts. They include a cluster of seven homes in Union Beach, the Raritan Bay community that sustained major damage from the storm. Martin also named Brick and Toms River as communities that could potentially be included in future buyouts, if enough willing participants come forward.
The state aims to buy 1,000 homes in Sandy-affected areas that are prone to repeat flooding, along with an additional 300 in the habitually flood-prone Passaic River Basin.
The 22 Sayreville homes on Weber and MacArthur avenues were sold to the state for prices ranging from $105,000 to $315,000.
"Many people in these Sandy affected neighborhoods told us they've had enough of dealing with flooding that has shattered their lives, and that they just want an opportunity to start again," Martin said. "We are committed to helping these people get through buyout process and helping them move on with their lives as quickly as possible."
The next round of funds targets 119 flood-prone homes in Woodbridge, East Brunswick, and Newark, as well as others in the Passaic River Basin. Also targeted are 33 homes in Lawrence Township in Cumberland County. Federal funding for 89 acquisitions in Woodbridge is expected to be approved within the next several months, the commissioner said.
Linden and Old Bridge have expressed interest in future buyouts, and the DEP will meet next week with officials and residents in Manville, which regularly floods when the Raritan River exceeds its banks.
Wayne Parry can be reached at https://twitter.com/WayneParryAC