FEMA and Flood Insurance

The following Wall Street Journal article highlights the discussion that has arisen over FEMA, Federal Flood Insurance and the right to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy.

The Future Question for Storm Victims: Can the Past Be Rebuilt?

Wall Street Journal Nov 16 2012

As towns up and down the eastern seaboard take stock of tens of billions of dollars in damage from one of the worst storms to hit the U.S., authorities and residents speak publicly about their intent to rebuild.

“I promised to everybody that I was speaking on behalf of the country when I said we are going to be here until the rebuilding is complete, and I meant it,” President Barack Obama said Thursday during a visit to New York City’s battered Staten Island. But with the federal budget deep in the red and government flood insurance still straining to recover from Hurricane Katrina, Sea Bright and other coastal towns face questions over not just how to rebuild in a way that defends lives and property against surging sea levels and more intense storms, but whether to rebuild at all.

Sandy’s destructive path has united an unlikely coalition of free-market think tanks, environmentalists, business owners and insurers arguing the moral hazard of rebuilding in coastal zones that might best be returned to nature. “It’s very difficult to get beyond the sympathy factor,” said Orrin Pilkey, a coastal geologist at Duke University. “But it works against us.” He said he knows the issue firsthand: Hurricane Camille in 1969 damaged his parents’ Mississippi home. Hurricane Katrina later obliterated it. “We are subsidizing, even encouraging, very dangerous development,” he said. “It’s amoral, really, that our government continues to blindly and stupidly do this.”

Repeated Southern California wildfires that leapfrog through hilly coastal enclaves, tornadoes that routinely slash through Southern and Midwestern towns, flooding rivers and hurricanes all trigger an avalanche of federal aid to help people restore homes and livelihoods. In New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie this week acknowledged the difficulty of rebuilding but said, “We’re going to be with you through every hardship, through every frustration and every step toward bringing New Jersey and its great shore back to the vitality it had the last summer and it’s had my entire life.”

No political leader would expect re-election after abandoning a storm-ravaged community. But with fiscal austerity and smaller government at the top of the national political agenda, some question the use of taxpayer-backed loans and other assistance to rebuild potentially dangerous communities. New Jersey, for example, is the most densely populated state in the U.S., with the bulk of its residents settled in counties along the shoreline.

“People keep saying we’re going to put everything back the way it was,” said Stephen Sweeney, the Democratic president of the New Jersey state senate. “No, we’re not. It makes no sense to do the same thing over and over again, throwing good money after bad.” In some low-lying areas, he said, he will encourage the federal government to “write checks, level the homes and let the land return to its natural state.”

Read the full Wall Street Journal article here

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