TRENTON – Assembly panel approved two bills Monday that would help towns provide long-term solutions to ward off future flooding problems.
The first bill (A-4267), mirrors a similar “Green Acres” measure instituted by various local governments wherein municipalities would be allowed to establish municipal open space trust funds specifically for the purchase of flood-prone properties. In order to establish such a fund, local governing bodies would have to seek voter approval for an annual levy at a rate deemed appropriate.
“This measure would put residents in the driver’s seat to decide how they want to handle flooding issues in their town,” said Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-Bergen/Hudson). “For certain properties that consistently flood, allowing the municipality to buy up that property might be the best option. This will provide towns with the funding mechanism to do that, should voters give it the okay.”
Under current law, municipalities are authorized to establish “Municipal Open Space, Recreation, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds.” This bill would amend the name of these municipal open space trust funds to be “Municipal Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Funds.”
In doing so, the bill would expand this authorization to specifically include “Blue Acres projects,” which are any projects acquired for recreation or conservation purposes on land that has been damaged by, or may be prone to incurring damage caused by, storms or storm-related flooding, or that may buffer or protect other lands from such damage. The funds would be allowed to be used for the demolition of structures or the removal of debris from such properties and the restoration of those lands to a natural state or to a state useful for recreation and conservation purposes.
The second bill (A-4269) is known as the “Emergency Transportation and Water Infrastructure Recovery Bond Act of 2011.” The measure would authorize the state to issue $100 million in general obligation bonds to be used to provide $50 million in grants to counties and $50 million in grants to municipalities for the cost of transportation infrastructure projects and water infrastructure projects required to be undertaken to meet an emergency caused, directly or indirectly, by Hurricane Irene or by other acts of God during August and September, 2011.
“Over the last few years, in particular, broad swaths of our state have incurred devastating damage from record flooding events,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “We can no longer continue to rely on band aid methods that simply repair damage rather than warding it off to begin with. It’s time we invest in tackling the underlying problems to prevent flood-related damage altogether.”
Under the bill, the Commissioners of Transportation and Environmental Protection would establish eligibility criteria and procedures for the review and approval of emergency infrastructure projects. Each commissioner would prepare a priority list of eligible projects under that commissioner’s jurisdiction, and bond funds are to be appropriated by the Legislature only in accordance with the respective priority lists.
Because the projects to be funded out of proceeds from the bonds are to “meet an emergency caused by disaster or an act of God,” the legislation is exempt from the ordinary constitutional requirement that it be put on the ballot for approval. Therefore, the bill would take effect immediately upon enactment.
Both measures were approved by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.