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Saving the flood-prone

September 22, 1998

It's a story as old as the hills and valleys of Western Maryland. People live alongside the rivers and streams, sometimes because they want to, but just as often because nobody wants to buy their flood-prone properties. And so they stay, forcing the government to spend disaster-relief money again and again.

Now comes a group poised to write a new ending for this sad tale. It's the Maryland Governor's Flood Mitigation Task Force, which met this week in Frostburg to discuss what's been accomplished and what steps its feels are still needed to keep citizens out of harms' way.

The task force's big success story was the state-funded project in Westernport, which successfully persuaded 27 of 28 targeted homeowners to relocate by offering them 30 percent more than the value of their homes to cover relocation costs.

House Speaker Cas Taylor explained that the extra cash was necessary because the federal government prohibits its agencies from paying relocation costs. That means the state either kicks in the difference, or loses the homeowner's cooperation. And though it involved a relatively small number of homes, the Westernport project wasn't cheap, with a $2.5-million price tag, $1.8 million of which came from the State Highway Administration.

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SHA can't fund everything, however, since another 500 homes have been targeted for relocation. Without more federal help, this project and others like it won't move forward.

We suggest that the task force lobby Maryland's Congressional delegation for a bill that would set aside part of the budget of the Federal Emergency Management Administration for relocation, on the premise that putting money into prevention now will reduce the need for disaster relief later.

And as for those stubborn few who insist on remaining in flood-prone areas, let them stay as long as they're able, but when they vacate, the state should declare their residences place uninhabitable. We don't need another generation putting themselves and those who might rescue them at risk.

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