Some Lessons of Sandy Part 3

Last week I blogged about the power companies and our need to pay for infrastructure improvements such as selectively burying electric power lines. But what about why so many homes and businesses were lost. Who is responsible for that? I asked questions implying that the following parties are all partly to blame.

Local land use officials who allowed people to build in dangerous areas? Builders? Realtors? The people who bought in those dangerous areas?

To the best of my recollection of history, the native peoples of New Jersey did not build permanent settlements on barrier islands. Why? They knew better. These islands are simply not permanent land – masses. They are, and remain dynamically moving land – masses.

So why did we not learn from those who lived here before us? I really don’t know.

I do know that the building of permanent structures on barrier islands, in flood plains and in areas that are just above sea level is simply not sustainable development. Local officials should never have allowed such building. The State Government should never have allowed such building, but of course, the cry of Home Rule limits the State’s role here.

Builders simply build to code…and that means the bare minimum standards of health and safety. That means that the homes built at in these areas simply cannot withstand a severe storm.

And of course, people want to have vacation homes at the water, or permanent homes near the water. This creates demand and value. That means that building will continue.

 Non-Sustainable Development

But who really pays for this non-sustainable development? Each and every one of us pays for this inappropriate development.

The Federal Flood Insurance program subsidizes every building owner in flood prone areas. The premiums that are paid for this insurance simply do not cover the cost of the payouts. Thus, federal tax dollars subsidize the remainder of the development. That means that you and I pay for the homes in flood prone areas.

Private insurance companies simply will not write policies for buildings in such areas. Why? They don’t want to lose money.

So here is the draconian solution. Make the payouts that people paid for. Let them rebuild if they want. If they don’t want to take that risk, create an additional system of payouts to help them recoup some property value and find a new place to live.

If they want to continue to live in a dangerous place, they have that right. They should then pay for that right with insurance premiums that reflect the true cost of coverage. If they don’t want to pay for that coverage, then by all means let them rebuild, but at their own risk.

In other words, no more federal subsidies for the insurance should be allowed.

This may appear draconian, and by the way, I know that it is politically impossible…not even Ronald Reagan was successful at implementing this idea, but it is certainly worth discussion.

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