Letter: Flooding: An Important Issue

Flooding destroys properties and endangers lives, furthermore, flooding pollutes clean water sources. It is vitally important to identify the causes and ways of mitigating the effects of flooding. My friends in academia, such as Dr. J. William Louda, who is an eminently qualified environmental biogeochemist and who has contributed to this section from time to time, will hopefully share his critical insights. In the interim, having studied law and water policy management, I would like to share my views.

Parking lots, roads, playgrounds and other man-made structures with impervious surfaces and inadequate drainage and water retention systems significantly contribute to clean-water pollution. Insurance covers the cost to repair damage, but does nothing to return our clean water sources to their pre-flooding chemical, physical and biological characteristics.

Polluters and not taxpayers should pick up the tab for the damage they cause. Since the 1950s, private flood insurance has not existed and government has been picking up the tab. If we are looking for causes, one problem is that older building codes did not require adequate drainage and water retention systems, as do current codes. Municipalities are not liable for negligence in code enforcement and developers are often insulated from liability suits if they have complied with building codes; however, building codes set a minimum standard and do not establish the outer limits of a developer’s safety responsibilities.

It is not likely that courts will retroactively assess damages against developers of properties that flood, as has been the case with chemical polluters. But there is another mechanism that might accomplish the same result. The U.S. Supreme Court decided government has the power to require its citizens to purchase health insurance or pay a tax. Accordingly, I submit that government has the power to require developers and owners to buy flood insurance and call it a tax.

The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 was the beginning of a plan that mandated the compulsory purchase of flood insurance for owners of commercial and residential properties encumbered by federally backed mortgages. This mandate is very likely to be extended to private homeowners not covered by federally backed mortgages. FEMA has drafted a new map, which puts Wellington, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee and The Acreage in new flood plains. If enacted, a flood-insurance mandate could cost residents of those areas $800 a year or more.

To learn more about flooding and what the county is working on, visit http://www.co.palmbeach.fl.us/dem/floodawareness.

Frank Morelli, Wellington