Who judges the risks we face?
For a research project I am working on, I've been going through Congressional hearings regarding ratemaking for the National Flood Insurance Program. One of the biggest challenges for me when going though Congressional hearings is sticking to the task at hand because inevitably I come across interesting stuff such as, constructive debate between notable historic senators (e.g. Sens. William Fulbright and Prescott Bush in 1956) or explanation for why things are as they are today.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was established in 1968. During the 1970's, decision makers became somewhat consumed by concerns about 'urban blight' and the cause was invoked for many efforts to revitalize, gentrify, or redevelop. During this time the NFIP was attempting to fulfill its mandate and get a handle on flood plains in the nation.
Apparent from Congressional discussion, the Feds coming in and designating flood plains came with some resentments. At times, Federal government judgements of flood risk did not align with State and local judgements. Thus, is the question of who has the power to define the risks we face?
Below is an excerpt from testimony given by Senator Thomas Eagleton from Missouri in 1977:
...About 15 years ago, Cassville faced a dilemma common to many small, rural communities. The economy was stagnating; decay was beginning; the population was growing older, as young people found it necessary to leave town to secure good employment. Unlike many other communities, Cassville fought back successfully. The town began a vigorous economic self-help program. They attracted several major industries, bringing about 1,000 new industrial jobs to the town. This brought the total industrial payroll to more than 1,100 jobs-a remarkable figure in a town of only 1,900 total population. This kind of growth, of course, was accompanied by corresponding growth in the already existing retail economy, government employ- ment, and the tourist business. It was evident in the growth of public facilities: a remodeled city hall/chamber of commerce building; a new airport; a new rest home, soon to be built; new parks and play- grounds. The scope of Cassville's boom is best summarized by the phenomenal growth of total deposits in the town's two banks-from less than $10 million in the early 1960's, to more than $40 million today.
But this was not a haphazard, unplanned growth. The civic and government leaders of Cassville recognized early-on the need for community planning. They enacted a comprehensive planning and zoning ordinance-and yes, Mr. Chairman, that ordinance included the designation of a reasonable flood plain, which was defined with the help of professional surveyors and engineers. Development is pro- hibited in this flood plain, and the land is used primarily for the parks, ballfields, and tennis courts I already have mentioned. The people of Cassville fought back and won, Mr. Chairman. They did it themselves, by and large without government assistance. This is one reason they were at first bewildered, then shocked, and finally outraged when the Federal Government appeared in their town, in the form of the Federal Insurance Administration, and informed them that, like it or not, more than half of Cassville, including the town square and three-fourths of the commercial district, as well as all of their industrial plants, was about to become part of the Fed- eral flood plain. In the future, they were told, there would be very severe restrictions on development in all of this area-and if they did not voluntarily join this program, all money for development would be cut off.
Mr. Chairman, no one in Cassville will deny that they have minor flooding from time to time. The town is called "The City of Seven Valleys," because a number of creeks converge there. That is why the town adopted its own flood plain management ordinance in 1972. But they have never sustained serious economic injury or lost a life due to flooding. There never, in human memory, has been flood water in the town square or most of the other area in the FIA flood plain. The banks in Cassville have never had even one defaulted loan, or for that matter even one missed loan payment, due to flooding. The community never has requested or received as much as 5 cents in Federal flood disaster relief. And there is such an underwhelming desire for flood insurance in this community, that in the more than 1 year the extremely inexpensive emergency insurance has been avail- able, only six policies have been sold. Those are the facts, Mr. Chairman. I would like to dwell on the story of Cassville just a moment longer, to go beyond the facts and to tell you what I perceive as the feeling in this community.
The people, quite simply, feel they have been betrayed by the Federal Government. They remember when Cassville was down- when the future didn't look quite as rosy. There was no great out- pouring of Federal aid then. There was no horde of HUD bureaucrats coming down from Kansas City or Washington, waiving dollars at the community and offering to help. The people of Cassville had to dig their own way out of the pit, and they did so with admirable success. Only now, after they have fought their own battle and won, do the people see the Federal Government coming in and saying, "No more. Because you are not wise enough to look out for your own interests, you no longer will be allowed to control your own destiny, and you will not be allowed to enjoy the fruits of your labors. If you must be driven back to where you started, so be it. It is for your own good."