Waves pummel Southold Town Beach during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Waves pummel Southold Town Beach during Superstorm Sandy in October 2012. Credit: Randee Daddona

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul will call for expanding a voluntary buyout program for homeowners who want to move away from areas that are increasingly vulnerable to flooding, including the Long Island coastline, as part of a multipronged climate change agenda this year.

Hochul will announce the buyout initiative — dubbed “Blue Buffers” — as part of the governor’s annual State of the State address scheduled for Tuesday.

The plan could be funded with $250 million from a recently approved environmental bond referendum. It is similar to a buyout plan the state offered in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“Targeted, voluntary buyout programs can help families that choose to participate to move out of harm’s way, reduce homeowners’ and governmental costs associated with repetitive flooding, and create space for resiliency projects that protect entire communities,” the Hochul administration said in briefing materials for the governor’s speech.

“If purchased contiguously, buyouts also help return sections of shorelines and flood plains to resilient habitats, including wetlands, which can absorb storm surge and high water to further protect and buffer surrounding communities. … Therefore, Governor Hochul is proposing to create a ‘Blue Buffers’ program to encourage voluntary buyouts in communities most vulnerable to flooding. The program will prioritize projects in communities based on the level of flood risk to ensure we protect those areas most vulnerable to high water and storm surge.”

The administration said the climate change plan will focus on protecting New Yorkers from increasing “extreme weather” events.

The initiatives include equipping localities with extra generators and high-flow pumps and other flood-barrier technology, offering “climate smart” grants, repairing aging levees and removing hazardous dams.

Other proposals calls for updating building codes to require withstanding greater weather extremes, updating coastal erosion maps to cover more homes and providing air conditioners in homes of the medically vulnerable.

After Superstorm Sandy walloped Long Island and the metropolitan area in 2012, the state offered buyouts for people willing to retreat from coastlines — but only about 700 homes were purchased, most of them on Staten Island.

But climate change has continued to exacerbate flooding in some areas and spark interest in homeowner buyouts in vulnerable areas, according to the National Institutes of Health. The buyout program managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been criticized for being too bureaucratic and inequitable and, too often, funding has been tied to a specific disaster instead of ongoing concerns.

The Pew Charitable Trusts evaluated some buyout programs in a recent report, saying they can be an effective long-term strategy but policy on funding and planning needed to be improved.

“Effective buyouts prevent future damage, make people safer, and ideally protect entire neighborhoods or communities. Moreover, once bought-out properties become natural open space, they can provide an added benefit of absorbing additional stormwater, further reducing flooding and helping to conserve habitats,” Pew said.

Hochul’s Blue Buffers plan, if approved, would start with a year of planning: Establishing program parameters, identifying areas of risk and launching community outreach.

Another long-term initiative is to provide “green infrastructure” grants to encourage communities to replace regular pavement with permeable pavement to reduce flooding, and deploy “green roofing” in which rooftop vegetation keeps buildings cooler in the summer. Another grant program would help communities repair or remove hazardous dams.

Among the short-term items in Hochul’s agenda is using the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to supply counties with more flood-barrier technology and high-flow pumps.

According to the Hochul administration: “Counties will be prioritized based on coastline, riverfront and historical flooding data, including major rivers and areas around Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the ocean/bay coastal areas surrounding Long Island, New York City and Westchester.”

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