A matter of risk-reward

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 31, 2011

People who build beachfront homes in Biloxi know they are taking a risk. Maybe not this year or the next or even the next, but sooner or later Mother Nature will deliver her fury, usually in the form of a hurricane, against the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In calm times, sitting on the front porch with a glass of sweet tea watching the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico is bliss. The breeze off the water is comforting.

The flip side is the risk. Many measure the risk against reward and choose the latter. But when that fury hits and those homes take a beating, who should be responsible? The risk-taker or taxpayers nationwide?

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Eagle Lake is an oxbow lake, formed years ago when Mother Nature changed its course. In calm times, the lake is beautiful. The lakefront is surrounded by stately homes, weekend cabins and pier after pier jutting out over the lake. But just as those on the Gulf Coast are taking a risk, so are those who own the piers and docks.

When the rising waters of the Mississippi River were reaching epic levels, the lake’s level was raised — necessarily — to take pressure off of the river’s mainline levee at Buck Chute. Had the levels not been raised and the levees breached, much more than docks and piers would have been destroyed at Eagle Lake.

As it is, no homes were seriously damaged by the river waters. Piers were covered with water until the lake was brought back to near ideal levels. People who built those piers certainly were, or should have been, informed on the risks. The river rises annually — sometimes more than once — and most of those times, the lake is unfazed. In extraordinary circumstances this May, the levels had to rise.

Unfortunate as it is, building those piers was a practice of risk-reward. The owners should remember that as they consider suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as was reported last week, because of damage to their property.

The consequences should fall on the homeowners, not the taxpayers.