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House Defeats Bill Opening up Federally-Owned Flood-Prone Land to Construction.

Byline: Arthur D. Postal,

NU Online News Service, July 24, 3:06 p.m. EDT

The House late Monday rejected a measure that would have permitted North Dakota communities to redevelop flood-prone open spaces that were bought out by the federal government.

The bill, S. 2039, would permit the construction of permanent levees on frequently flooded lands that have been purchased using the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

The lands were turned over to the state with the understanding that they be preserved as open spaces. The bill would have lifted that restriction throughout North Dakota without requiring the communities to repay the federal grants they took, according to R.J. Lehmann, public affairs director for R Street Institute.

The bill passed the Senate in January by unanimous consent.

It was taken up in the House Monday under the suspension calendar, an expedited-procedure mechanism, but it failed to win the necessary two-thirds vote to pass. The vote was 126-254. The suspension calendar is normally reserved for measures that aren't controversial.

"This bill would have set a terrible precedent that we feared could be repeated for all of the 37,000 deed-restricted open-space properties nationwide, where lands that were bought out using taxpayer money to avoid future flood losses would nonetheless be allowed to be developed," Lehmann says.

"What's worse is that it wouldn't even require the communities to pay back the mitigation grants they received," he adds. "In effect, that turns what should have been a program to reduce risks into one that funds creating new risks."

The bill was sponsored by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. According to Lehmann, the bill did not receive a single hearing in either chamber of Congress, and no significant debate was held on the floors of either the House or the Senate.

"From where we sit, tossing away millions of taxpayer dollars, subsidizing environmentally harmful construction and transforming federal programs that were meant to reduce risks into, in effect, community-development grants should all be considered controversial," Lehmann says. "Congress should at least take a pause to discuss this bill, and better understand the terrible precedent it would set."
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Publication:Property and Casualty 360
Geographic Code:1U4ND
Date:Jul 24, 2012
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