FOR those who live along U.S. coastlines, the feel of sand between their toes, the year-round ocean view, and falling asleep to the sound of gentle waves are experiences just this side of heaven.
Unfortunately, the ability of the few to live in paradise has been subsidized for decades by the rest of the country in the form of higher insurance premiums, federal insurance subsidies, and disaster-relief payments because many of these same areas are prone to hurricane-related storm damage.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, however, is working on a plan to reduce that liability, at least a little, by buying up thousands of homes along Mississippi s Gulf of Mexico coast and creating a hurricane-protection zone.
This Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program, while still in the talking stages, deserves serious attention. The idea is to spend some $40 billion purchasing up to 17,000 homes, building levies, and restoring barrier islands. The land could be converted into wetlands or earmarked for other public uses such as golf courses and bike trails but could not be sold for private development.
The benefits are many: The coastline and perhaps the interior as well would be better protected from the ravages of future storms like Hurricane Katrina, and there would be fewer homes along the coast to be destroyed, fewer people to be rescued, less drain on limited disaster-relief agencies and funds, and a reduction in the huge losses incurred by insurers that result in higher premiums even for people living far from high-risk areas.
This newspaper has for years encouraged Congress to ban federal subsidies for insurance for people who live on river flood plains and ocean coasts. The dangers of living in these areas are well known and we believe those who choose the lifestyle ought to accept the risk as well.
Participation in the plan being worked on by the Corps of Engineers would be voluntary, and it does not solve the problem of what to do about people who willingly live in harm s way. But it does take a step in the right direction by encouraging at least some homeowners in an especially susceptible area to relocate and by ensuring that the land where their houses once stood will in the future act as buffer, protecting homes farther inland.
The Washington Times reports that federal spending on the Gulf Coast in the two years since Katrina has topped $127 billion, and there s no assurance an even bigger storm won t devastate the area again next hurricane season, bringing with it the pleas of thousands of people for federal help rebuilding their lives. Against that backdrop, $40 billion to prevent a recurrence could be money well spent.