Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced today that up to $99 million in conservation funding will be provided to assist Hurricane Sandy victims in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Funding will be used to enrol 671 acres of hurricane-damaged property into permanent floodplain easements, while also making affected communities more resilient to future flooding and storm surges. The resources will help coastal communities, both human and natural, which are still recovering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which came ashore on the northeast coast of the U.S. on October 29, 2012.

"More homeowners and communities that are still struggling from Hurricane Sandy will now find relief," said Vilsack. "Restoring and protecting floodplain areas will also reduce the potential for future flooding impacts and improve wildlife habitat and long-term environmental stability."

The funds announced today are provided through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP-FPE), which provides long-term protection and restoration of floodplains on privately owned lands damaged by flooding. This is the second round of floodplain easement application selections, for which and NRCS received and is responding to 273 applications. A previous sign-up put over 400 acres under perpetual easements.

When lands are enrolled into the NRCS floodplain easements program, homes, structures, dikes or other obstacles are removed, allowing water to move naturally across floodplains when streams and rivers swell beyond their banks. The easements also prohibit any building in these flood prone areas in the future, which eliminates potential for future flood-related structural damage on these lands. These investments are part of a 21st century infrastructure that harnesses the benefits of nature to protect communities from harm and support's President Obama's executive direction to rebuild in the aftermath of Sandy in a manner that accounts for current vulnerabilities to extreme weather events and increases community and regional resilience in responding to future impacts.

Restoration of the normal floodplain functions provides numerous benefits such as increasing floodwater retention, reducing the damage from flood events, improving water quality, reducing erosion, and improving fish and wildlife habitat.

Examples of how easements are helping landowners include:

West Haven and New Haven, Conn.: The neighbourhoods near Beach Street were hit especially hard as homes were irreparably damaged and families had to be evacuated. NRCS will provide more than $7 million for the restoration and permanent protection of 31 properties, 15 funded through the first sign-up and 16 funded through the second sign-up. These properties cover 71 acres of vulnerable floodplain lands, including 11 acres of residential lots. Floodplain restoration and removal of structures will benefit both landowners and the surrounding community.

Cumberland County, N.J.: The Cumberland County application is the largest submitted to NRCS during the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, consisting of more than 450 acres of marshy, flood prone property currently used to produce salt hay. The southern end of the area is adjacent to a large tract of state-owned open space land and the northern end is by a large NRCS Wetlands Reserve Program easement. By linking these two properties together, the Cumberland County application serves to greatly increase the footprint of protected land in the area. This will allow for comprehensive restoration of the properties' floodplain functions and values.

Mastic/Shirley Area, Suffolk County (Long Island) N.Y.: Numerous small parcels of land, some with houses, located in this low-lying, 100-year floodplain were severely affected by Hurricane Sandy. The NRCS estimated investment of $5.6 million on 45 acres will provide permanent protection and will provide a critical buffer to a densely developed residential area to the north of the enrolled lands. The Mastic/Shirley area is adjacent to the natural shoreline of the William Floyd Estate, a significant environmental area of 600 acres to the east owned by the U.S National Park Service, and part of the Fire Island National Seashore. The US Fish and Wildlife's 2,250-acre Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge is also nearby.

Since 1997, NRCS has enrolled nearly 1,500 easements and more than 180,000 acres into the program, including lands in 36 states.