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Gov. Cuomo's grand plan post-Sandy: give some of New York back to nature (+video)

New York Gov. Cuomo is proposing creation of an undeveloped coastal buffer zone by spending $400 million to buy and demolish up to 10,000 homes destroyed by superstorm Sandy.

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Once under state ownership, the land would be turned into dunes, wetlands, parks, or other natural buffers that would offer protection against future storm surges, as per the discretion of local authorities. The land would not be built on again. Cuomo’s office said it predicts 10 to 15 percent of homeowners will pursue the buyout.

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If the proposal is approved, the governor’s office has said it would announce additional details within the next two weeks.

The plan is one of many proposals – including dikes, a huge sea wall, and the re-introduction of oyster beds in New York Harbor – to find long-term solutions against future floods from storm surges.

Of course, local reaction to the governor’s proposal is mixed.

Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R), whose district includes storm-battered swaths of Staten Island, says residents in his district would welcome the buyout.

“Sometimes it’s more appropriate to look back and see if Mother Nature has won and allow people to be bought out of homes and moved to other parts of the community,” Councilman Ignizio says. “Staten Island seems to be the epicenter of interest for this program because they deal with a lot more than just flooding – a significant amount of forest fires, phragmites [an invasive grass that fuels wildfires], and overall flooding coming off the water on a regular basis.”

Ignizio cited the Oakwood Beach neighborhood on the eastern shore of Staten Island, where the majority of households – some 133 out of 165 – have said they would take a buyout offer.

“They’ve had it, they can’t go through another flooding, another wildfire or bailing out their basements, losing priceless keepsakes,” he says.

But many others are planning to dig in their heels, including those in New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo’s (D) district of more than 300,000, which includes Long Island’s vulnerable Rockaway Peninsula and Breezy Point.

“In his district he’s got people who have lived in these seaside homes for generations, these people who obviously stay there because they’ve got roots there,” says Judy Close, press secretary for Senator Addabbo.

“There’s a reason they live there – the water, they like it, and they’ve established close ties. They’re not easily influenced ... or easily scared by the storm that just happened,” she adds, “Folks have said, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’ They’re a pretty hardy group.”

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