2008 flood victims have hard choice to make

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 22, 2009

Not all will like it, but residential victims of 2008 flooding are being offered about as good a deal as they can get.

When the water was still rising, Mayor Laurence Leyens pledged he would do whatever he could to help the approximately 50 homeowners who live west of North Washington Street navigate not only the flood, but the bureaucratic aftermath. He has done that.

Eligibility for federal dollars through the National Flood Insurance Program comes with a commonsense hitch for cities, counties and the insureds.

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It is that if an area floods and a structure is damaged more than half its value, the city and county cannot issue permits for repairs or utility services to that structure. The purpose is to break a cycle of claims in areas known to flood, which are the only places NFIP coverage is available.

The trap for residents is that (1) they don’t want to move, (2) they can’t afford to move or (3) both. Even with buyout money and relocation payments, some flooded-out people can’t qualify for new mortgages and, besides, have no desire to leave their homes and land.

If enforced in ironclad fashion, the rules could mean a 75-year-old man caught taking a replacement rug in the door of a $10,000 home where he had lived for 50 years could be arrested and put in jail. Nonsense? Perhaps. But it’s the law.

The compromise negotiated by City Hall is not much better and, the mayor says, may be a first in the nation. After jumping through a series of legal hoops, property owners may be allowed to make repairs, have utilities restored and move back into the flood area — but if and only if they surrender any future claim to NFIP coverage or benefits.

From the perspective that the whole program was created to provide policies that private firms wouldn’t sell, excluding the people the program was created to protect seems counterintuitive, at best.

But as Walter Cronkite was prone to say, “That’s the way it is.” Not a great deal, but as good as the law allows.