US Rethinks Flood-Relief Policy Bill to Provide Federal Support for Relocation Awaits President Clinton's Signature

Article excerpt

COUNT on it. The Mississippi River will flood again sometime in the future.

And like water dripping from a faucet, the many urgent public and private decisions being made now after the Midwest's biggest flood in history will shape the range of responses and changes in handling floods of the future.

The most urgent decisions now are aimed at increasing permanent relief for homes and structures damaged by the flooding. Waiting for President Clinton's signature this week is a bill approved by Congress to raise the amount of federal money available for relocation of homes and structures out of flood plains.

The bill would provide $105 million instead of the $24 million available before the flood for relocation. Most of the additional money would be shifted from other disaster funds. More than 200 towns along the Mississippi have decided they have had one flood too many. Moving all or part of a town to higher ground is their answer.

More relocation money, combined with several other existing federal programs such as Community Block Development Grants from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and loans from the Farmers Home Administration, still won't reach the estimated $400 million the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said is needed to relocate towns.

President Clinton is expected to sign the bill first proposed by Rep. Harold Volkmer (D) of Missouri. It will raise the federal government's buyout obligation to 75 percent of the preflood value of homes, businesses, and structures. Other federal money is available to towns to provide the remaining 25 percent.

"Just about everybody who lived in the north end of town wants out," says Bill Anderson, mayor of Ste. Genevieve, Mo., a town of 4,500. "Dec. 1 was the deadline for us to make application for federal funds, about $2 million to cover 145 damaged houses. If the homeowners had flood insurance, we will deduct that."

Many other river towns don't want a complete relocation of the entire town, either, just a removal of houses and structures standing in the lowest parts of town. The abandoned land would then be used as a park or field with no structures allowed.

"It's a competitive situation out there," says Scott Faber, director of flood-plain programs at American Rivers in Washington, D.C. "Much depends on the ability of local governments to put together a strong package to dip into these various pots of federal money. If you have people who know how to get federal grants, then your town might be taken care of completely."

Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts has introduced legislation to strengthen the under-used, 25-year-old National Flood Insurance Program. …