Environmentalists are pushing a plan to buy homes along the coast that are repeatedly damaged by storms, with $20 million tucked into a borrowing bill for environmental projects that is still being hashed out by House and Senate lawmakers.

“It’s undeniable that significant taxpayer dollars continue to be spent to defend against Mother Nature,” said Sen. Marc Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who filed the buyback proposal. “And Mother Nature will always win that fight.”

But the idea of ceding land and homes to the state is controversial among coastal residents such as Bob Connors, who has spent thousands of dollars to fortify his Plum Island home with bulkheads and concrete block barriers.

Despite the threat of beach erosion and waves churned up by devastating storms, Connors said he has no plans to leave his land.

“We shouldn’t be retreating from our shoreline,” he said. “This is America. We don’t run, we fight.”

Environmentalists say rising sea levels and the increased likelihood of storms are creating urgency for the state to help homeowners leave the shore.

“This program would convert vulnerable and dangerous flood-prone properties from liabilities to valuable community assets, while sparing lives, protecting the environment and saving tax dollars,” said Jack Clarke, director of policy and government relations at the Massachusetts Audubon Society.

Clarke and other environmentalists argue that other options — such as manmade barriers like the massive stone jetties at the mouth of the Merrimack River off Plum Island — are costly and largely ineffective.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a similar buyback program, though it has purchased only a few properties, according to the agency.

Thousands of homes could be eligible for a buyback program. FEMA officials said the national flood insurance program has paid multiple claims in the past decade for 534 properties along the New England coast — including several on Plum Island. There are more than 12,000 such properties nationally.

Homes with repeat claims are receiving special scrutiny, given the flood insurance program’s dire status. The plan is about $24 billion in the red, largely from losses in recent storms, and taxpayers are picking up a portion of the debt as Congress pumps money into the program to keep it solvent.

Congress sought to fix the insurance program two years ago by eliminating subsidies for waterfront homeowners, but it repealed the changes amid an uproar over the higher premiums.

“They’re essentially kicking the can down the road,” Clarke said.

Pacheco had proposed $50 million for the state buyback program, to purchase properties from willing sellers. He said negotiations in the Legislature have reduced the figure.

The framework — such as which agency will administer it and how — hasn’t been worked out, he said. But the money could be used only for coastal properties that have experienced repeated losses from storms. Participation would be voluntary, he said.

Several area lawmakers — including Sens. Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican, and Kathleen O’Connor-Ives, a Newburyport Democrat — support the proposed buyback.

The effort comes as the state’s coastline rapidly disappears to erosion. In the past six months, the state has lost 30 feet of coastline, according to the state office of Coastal Zone Management.

Plum Island has lost about 100 feet of beach to the sea in the last 20 years, according to state officials. Recent storms have accelerated the process — and destroyed several homes.

Elsewhere on the North Shore, Crane Beach in Ipswich is losing about 4.6 feet of beachfront a year, while Swampscott’s Phillips Beach is losing close to 2 feet a year.

At the same time, New England coastal waters are rising at a rate three times faster than the global average, according to Coastal Zone Management, which attributes the trend to climate change exacerbated by human activity.

Scientists predict the world’s oceans could rise 3 feet by the end of the century and that New England could see more winter storms like those that battered the coast in 2011 and 2012.

Nearly 85 percent of the state’s 6.7 million residents live within 50 miles of the coast, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The state recently formed a Coastal Erosion Commission to take stock of damages to property, infrastructure, beaches and dunes since the Blizzard of 1978 and estimate potential damages over the next decade. The commission is also expected to propose ways to tackle the problem, such as moving buildings from the water’s edge, building artificial barriers to protect the coast, elevating structures on pilings, or replenishing beaches with sand.

A similar commission in 2006 made more than two dozen recommendations, including a program where the state ultimately purchased 37 miles of coast that’s now off limits to development.

Connors said he doesn’t think that approach will be successful, mostly because it will cost too much.

“Who has the money to write a check for $1 trillion?” he said. “That’s what it’s really going to cost.”

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse He can be reached at cwade@cnhi.com Follow him on Twitter: @cmwade1969

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