Monday, October 8, 2007
Retreat!” is the cry of many environmentalists and some economists in regard to government support of human development on risky coastal areas. Historically, federal and state programs have given developers and owners insurance and security to build in attractive but storm-prone coastal regions, such as those along the Gulf of Mexico.
But in some places, such as Bay St. Louis, Miss., which felt the full brunt of hurricane Katrina in 2005, a debate is raging over a change in policy. Among other things, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is offering a buyout of homes, in the hope of rebuilding wetlands (which act as a buffer to storms) and discouraging the rebuilding of houses along the coast. Among local concerns about the plan is the worry that reconstruction will be done in a patchwork manner –- with a rebuilt house next to a bought-out lot.
Our land use policies have typically bent over backwards to help homeowners (who are often affluent) who have built in risky areas –- insurance and buyouts have helped residents who otherwise wouldn’t have had protection from the private insurance market. To the extent that predictions suggest that it’s too risky to live in certain locations, and that the long-term public good would be served by more wetlands, government should discourage people from rebuilding –- or at least not give them insurance.