As the United States Congress, in its hapless way, considers yet another tweak to its hapless offspring, the National Flood Insurance Program, perhaps some discussion of the program's merits is in order.
Thus arrives the end of the discussion: the National Flood Insurance Program has no merits.
The program is interesting as a concept, though, so let's look at the concept. Residents of communities that participate in the National Flood Insurance Program can buy insurance through it if their communities take certain measures to avoid the dangers of flooding. For example, a participating community would be asked to regulate commercial development to insure that not too much rain water runs off of the asphalt of shopping center parking lots and accompanying roads.
Now, Flood Borough, which lives downstream, can participate in the NFIP and do its best to comply with its rainwater runoff mandates, bless its little heart.
But Super Fudge Chunk Township, which exists uphill and upstream from Flood Borough, doesn't participate in the NFIP. It doesn't really care where its rainwater goes. It wants to play host to the 1.5 million square-foot Super Value Fluxom Buxom Triple Dipper Ice Cream Maker Mall.
Super Fudge Chunk's elected council members' collective taste buds are foaming with the prospect of eating Super Value Fluxom Buxom Triple Dipper Ice Cream Maker ice cream all week. Nor can they wait to hold in their aching hands the glorious tax revenue from such a mall; after the 30-year tax increment financing deal that they grant Fluxom Buxom Inc. expires, of course.
And the state can't wait to make the announcement that it's giving Super Fudge Chunk Township a check for $250,000 to make "improvements" to help build the mall. The governor's already getting his tux pressed.
Rainwater runoff, as anyone who has been made homeless by it can attest, is a major cause of flooding in many communities. It happens because nobody who builds a mall has the power to tell Mother Nature not to rain on its acres of now asphalt-covered, impermeable ground cover. Mother Nature, who could not hear such a call even if one were issued, drops her rain where she will.
It then runs off of the shopping mall tarmac that shields soils that would have welcomed the liquid and the water runs instead into the streams and rivers that had occupied those spaces for millennia before the shopping mall and its feeder roads were built.
Super Fudge Chunk's mall gets built, here comes the rain and bye-bye Flood Borough, it was very nice knowing you. Don't let your NFIP manual hit you in the head as it floats by you on the floodwaters.
I'm sure you catch my rainwater drift.
Keep in mind that the NFIP is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency about which any resident of New Orleans will tell you we should assume gross incompetence at the highest levels until it someday proves otherwise. FEMA could no more coordinate cooperative implementation of the National Flood Insurance Program among the thousands of community governments in the United States than a member of the St. Bernadette's girls' softball team could hit a hard ball home run off of Roger Clemens, whether his gluteus maximus be chemically enhanced or not.
The latest D.C. debates on the program have involved whether to add wind coverage to the already bankrupt program, an idea the insurance industry hates, and whether to forgive its $20 billion debt, to a federal government that is already choking in it.
Did I hear someone whisper "Monopoly money"?
You can tweak it as many times as you want, but the NFIP by the very nature of its most basic structure and stated goals is unworkable. Please U.S. Congress, do something right for a change and don't just tweak it, drown it.
DAN REYNOLDS is senior editor of Risk & Insurance®.
April 1, 2008
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