Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke at length in his January State of the State speech on the Hurricane Sandy disaster, and his strategies for dealing with ongoing climate change as it impacts downstate coastlines.
"We propose a Recreate New York Home Buyout program," he said. "There are some places where people may choose not to build back... parcels that Mother Nature owns."
"She may only visit once every few years, but she owns the parcel and when she comes to visit, she visits. We want to run a program that will provide the funds to buy out those homeowners who don't want to rebuild and want to move on to higher ground literally, and that would be smart," he added.
To back up his words with action, the governor announced the inclusion of $3.4 billion in the state executive budget towards the buyout and demolition of New York City homes likely to be or already damaged by extreme weather events. Pending federal approval, the program proposes to reimburse homeowners in the disaster area at the full pre-storm market value of their home, with a five percent bonus if they relocate in the same county.
If a house has not been damaged but is deemed to be located in a vulnerable area, the homeowner could be eligible for a whopping 10-to-15 percent bonus above market value to sell and relocate. If all the homeowners on a given designated storm or flood-prone block agree to sell, they could be eligible for yet another 10 percent. The vacated land would theoretically be "returned to nature", reducing future risks to life and property.
Of course, no reasonable person would begrudge our hard-hit fellow New Yorkers disaster aid. The suffering from Sandy was epic and heart wrenching. However, Lake Ontario shoreline businesses and homeowners here in Niagara County will also be experiencing much the same devastating circumstances, only these will not be caused by a killer storm, they will occur as a direct result of Cuomo's policies.
Last year the Cuomo administration played a key role in developing the "BV7" plan for raising Lake Ontario water levels. The annual average increase of up to a foot in water levels is projected to dramatically increase economic losses to Niagara County shoreline property owners, in terms of shore protection maintenance ($2.62 million), additional erosion costs to properties ($160,000), flooding ($310,000) and loss of recreational boating ($1.13 million). In other words, our region would take an annual $4.2 million hit under the Cuomo proposal.
The plan also lists annual increases in anticipated revenues for the NYPA St. Lawrence ($3.44 million) and Hydro Quebec ($1.96 million) hydropower generation plants that would result from raising the water levels.
Days after Sandy hit, the Gov. Cuomo created the "New York State 2100 Commission" to address climate change challenges. The commission's report, which was released last month, recommends that home buyout programs be extended to all residents of New York State who are exposed to extreme weather risks arising from climate change, including those who live and work on the southern shoreline of Lake Ontario.
A cynical dictum recently put to overuse has it that a politician should "never let a good disaster go to waste". We would like to think that Cuomo cares about all New Yorkers in distress, not only those who fell victim to Sandy's wrath in the space of a few days, but also those who stand to lose their homes and livelihoods over the next decade as a direct result of his BV7 plan for Lake Ontario.
Where's the relief for us?