Visits to Drowned Towns Inspired Volkmer's Flood Buyout Bill
Robert L. Koenig Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
WHEN MARK TWAIN took a nostalgic trip down the Mississippi River a century ago, he was startled to find that the town of Napoleon, Ark., had disappeared.
For Old Man River, in a fit of flooding, had swallowed and spit out Napoleon - a once-thriving town that Twain recalled from his days as a young riverboat man who got his start in Hannibal, Mo.
There weren't any federal buyouts in those days, so folks who lost their town just picked up and moved. But now, another man from Hannibal - Rep. Harold L. Volkmer, D-Mo. - has done his bit to help the modern-day Napoleons.
Last summer, at the height of the record Flood of '93, Volkmer was talking to people in Missouri's flooded towns when he got an idea: Why not make it easier for flood victims to move away from the rivers' paths, and then prevent others from building again on the flood-prone property?
When he got back to Washington, Volkmer talked to federal disaster officials and drafted a bill to do just that. With the help of House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., the legislation moved swiftly through the House. And last weekend, Congress passed a buyout bill based mainly on Volkmer's plan, with two provisions by Gephardt that expanded the buyout aid.
As early as this week, President Bill Clinton - a Democrat who comes from the state that lost Napoleon to the Mississippi - is expected to sign the bill, which quadruples the federal aid available for Midwest buyouts.
"I'd say this was one of the highlights of my career up here," said Volkmer, who has served in Congress for 16 years. "This is going to give a lot of people in the Midwest the opportunity to move out of the flood-plain and avoid the devastation and loss we witnessed this summer."
The legislation will increase the federal share of flood buyouts and other "hazard mitigation" to 75 percent, from the current 50 percent. …