Idea to Return Land to Natural State After Sandy Transforms Staten Island Shore

Three years after Hurricane Sandy, NY1's Amanda Farinacci takes a look at how the idea to demolish homes destroyed by the storm and leave the land vacant forever is transforming the shore of Staten Island.

The brush along Kissam Avenue in Oakwood Beach is well over six feet tall. Wildflowers and invasive plant species now grow freely, and with no one around to manage and control them, nature is now taking its course.  

"We're really seeing progress, and I think the neighborhood is seeing progress," said Lisa Bova-Hiatt of the Governor's Office of Storm Revocery.

This community was the first to become part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's program allowing homeowners in flood-prone neighborhoods ravaged by Hurricane Sandy to sell their properties so the land could return to its natural state. Eighty-one houses have already been demolished, and there are plans to tear down more than 200 others, returning Oakwood Beach to the marshland it was meant to be.

The buyout program was a tough sell for some, but more than 90 percent of those given the option to sell and leave have signed up, inspired by the idea they'll be protecting others from the losses they suffered. Officials are hoping some of the few holdouts eventually will follow suit.

"That was a key factor in a lot of us giving up our homes, to make the rest of our neighbors safe," said Joe Herrnkind, who sold his home to the state.

Residents of Ocean Breeze and Graham Beach, two neighboring communities accustomed to brush fires and flooding, were also offered buyouts, but nature hasn't taken over there just yet. Some homes are still occupied, and others are vacant, waiting for the wrecking ball.

While the program has its critics - some complain about low buyout offers and the length of the process -- many see it as a viable choice.

"I think it's very good option to have for people that want to move on," said Frank Moszczynski of the Ocean Breeze Civic Association. "And even here, if people didn't want to take that choice, it's nice to have options."

Five hundred and thirteen buyout offers, totaling more than $188 million, have been made on Staten Island. Almost 400 of them have closed. When demolitions are finished in the next two years, hundreds of families will no longer have to worry about the ebb and flow of the sea.

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