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Published June 16, 2009, 12:00 AM

Forum editorial: FEMA’s criteria need work

The buyouts of flood-prone homes must be a major component of an effective Red River flood control strategy.

By: Forum Editorial Board, INFORUM

The buyouts of flood-prone homes must be a major component of an effective Red River flood control strategy. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s apparent changing of buyout rules threatens to undermine the program. FEMA should revise its criteria to reflect the demonstrated realities of flood damage.

Cass County has identified more than 100 flood-insured homes that should be eligible for the federal buyout. The idea is to remove the most flood-prone properties from flood zones. The homes identified under previous federal criteria suffered substantial damage in the 2009 flood, including some structures that had water sloshing several feet on their first floors. By any sensible measure, those homes were in harm’s way, still are in harm’s way, and should be purchased and removed.

Again, under FEMA’s old rules, the at-risk homes would be eligible. But by changing eligibility cost-benefit ratios to reflect a dishonest view of the flood plain, only a handful of homes are eligible. FEMA only recognizes homes in the 10-year flood zone, while most of the eligible homes are in the 50- to 100-year zones. The obvious fallacy of FEMA’s rule is that floods have become more frequent and more damaging in the 50- to 100-year zone. It’s lunacy for the federal agency charged with helping mitigate flood damage and prevent future damage to ignore on-the-ground flooding reality.

Despite being unfairly criticized by stressed homeowners in the neighborhoods damaged by the flood, Cass County officials are pressing FEMA and other appropriate individuals and agencies to revise buyout requirements. The county has a significant box of tools with which to work, including the influence of North Dakota’s congressional delegation.

To be fair, FEMA officials are working with the rules they have. The rules, however, have jettisoned common sense. The rules as they stand would leave properties that suffered extensive flood damage in place for the next big flood. And rest assured there will be another big flood. Homeowners could begin building their own protection, but the levees necessary to protect against a 2009-type event would be no guarantee. Moreover, leaving expensive properties in the flood zone is precisely the wrong option. The idea is to create a green zone – in effect, a natural floodway clear of at-risk properties.

The county should keep pushing FEMA. If more pressure is needed to get the federal agency into line, the congressional delegation knows how to do that. But the dumbest option for the county, FEMA and for a long-term flood-control agenda is to leave homes in locations that will surely flood again.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.