Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Floodplains and FEMA … and parentalism in Washington State …

   In this year of federal government intervention throughout the economy (do we really need standards for light bulbs when we have a cap-and-trade system coming, which would allow for the expression of preferences in carbon emissions?), it is no surprise that today’s land use story from the cool Pacific Northwest concerns federal insinuation in land use decisions.   Along the Snohomish River, near Monroe, Washington-st-snohomish northeast of Seattle, the county of Snohomish has permitted a mobile home park.  The area regularly floods during the wet winter months.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently informed the county that unless it uses its land use powers to move the mobile home park out of the floodplain, FEMA will withdraw insurance coverage for the county. The County thus has no real choice (quick, somebody alert Justice Thomas!).
   Isn’t it paternalism for the federal government to tell people who live in a floodplain (probably with low rents and other housing costs) that it’s unsafe to live there?  Well, sometimes paternalism makes sense.  If there’s a big flood this December, would we allow FEMA to tell residents crying for help:  “You made your floodplain home, now lie in it”?  Of course not …   

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