Proposal allows homeowners to sell endangered coastal properties back to state

BOSTON — With one storm after another this has been a tough winter for the New England shoreline. Many coastal homes are paying the price, getting closer to harm’s way as beaches suffer from severe erosion.

One potential solution under consideration at the Massachusetts State House would create a program to buy back endangered properties from their owners.

LIVE VOTE: Should the state initiate a taxpayer-funded program for coastal homes?

It has passed the state Senate.

Along Salisbury beach, many homes are now just feet from the cliffs created by erosion.

In Scituate, one man pointed to a home that has now been rebuilt three times over the past 20 years because of storm damage.

Advocates like Jack Clarke with the Massachusetts Audubon Society believe a voluntary buyback program would save taxpayers money.

“For every dollar invested, we save about three in rebuilding and flood insurance costs," Clarke said. "They keep rebuilding in these flood hazard areas with federal taxpayer dollars going behind them and we need to stop that insanity.”

Reclaimed property would be returned to communities, and in many cases, restore natural barriers to flooding.

“Things like wetlands, marshes, can be excellent capture points for flood waters,” Rob DeLeo, professor of public policy at Bentley University, said.

Rob Brennan, president of Capebuilt Development, says building regulations and practices changed dramatically after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy.

Brennan recently developed 63 new homes that make up Heritage Sands in Dennisport and is fully confident those properties can withstand changes in the climate.

He pointed to homes built on pilings so waves can go under them, electrical systems that have been placed above projected flood levels, and windows that can withstand being hit with projectiles during high winds.

“I think that you want to encourage better construction and better development in coastal areas," Brennan said. "For cities and towns, coastal properties carry an enormous component for the real estate tax base."

DeLeo believes a voluntary buyback program needs to be part of climate adaptation, but says it’s important that it not come off as if the government is seizing private property.

“We want people to trust the government. We want people to see the value in adapting to climate change because this isn't a problem that's going to get resolved by buying 1-2-3 homes," DeLeo said. "This is a problem that is going to unveil itself over decades.”

The cost of a buyback program in Massachusetts won’t be known until when, and if, a specific program is adopted.

Just last week, Gov. Charlie Baker unveiled a long list of environmental proposals to protect the state against climate change. It comes with a $1.4 billion price tag.