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