Updated at 3:45 p.m. Thursday
Westwood closed on three flood-prone properties last week, allowing homeowners who had been in limbo since Hurricane Irene to finally move on with their lives.
The borough closed on 55 and 46 Harding Avenue Thursday morning and 60 Harding Avenue Friday morning, according to Borough Administrator Robert Hoffmann. The purchases were made with a portion of $2,068,057 in grants, including about $1.5 million from FEMA and the rest from the Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres program.
As a part of the buyout program, FEMA required the borough to have the homes appraised, which set the prices to be paid. Grant money was also used to cover costs like the appraisers. The amounts paid for the three homes were $324,357.87, $420,000.00 and $297,716.00, according to Hoffmann.
"It doesn't affect everybody, but for the people it does, it's just tremendous," former Councilman William Phayre said Thursday.
The borough does still have money left over, though the exact amount is pending further approval from FEMA. The money will go toward future buyouts.
A total of about $28 million was made available by FEMA and the DEP for buyouts in New Jersey after Irene.
Homes in the Harding Avenue area flooded four times in 2011. Irene was the worst of the storms, bringing more than 7 feet of water into Joe Rivers' home, he previously told Patch. Officials condemned the home, but allowed Rivers to return after temporary walls were built.
One of the former homeowners declined to comment for this article. The other two could not be reached.
Hoffmann said that two of the owners had relocated within Westwood and the third attempted to as well.
For officials, the process has not been easy. About 90 Westwood property owners signed up for acquisition or elevation in December 2011 after FEMA announced grant money would be available. The money did not become available as early as local officials had expected, and the process to meet program requirements took hundreds of man-hours. Officials had also been worried that the borough would have to pay property taxes for the sites if the purchases were made after October 1.
The houses will need to be demolished before the growing season ends, Hoffmann said. In the meantime, they may be used by the Westwood Fire Department for some drills.
For other homeowners in the flood-prone area, there is still uncertainty. Several homes remain for sale along Harding Avenue. Hoffmann said FEMA has previously planned to fund five rounds of buyouts after Irene, though only the first has occured so far.