Monday February 09, 2004

West Virginians are accustomed to dealing with floods that cost people their homes -- perhaps more accustomed than they should be.

The first rule of flood avoidance is not to live in a floodplain. Yet some West Virginians have rebuilt in floodplains again and again, with predictable results.

The state Senate recently passed a bill that would give counties the power to regulate construction in flood plains, the better to keep the same tragedies from happening over and over again.

County commissions would be given more power to control where people can build in unincorporated areas and allow them to set penalties when people ignore their policies.

As things stand, flood plain managers say, they have few tools to use to head off trouble.

Counties may decide where the floodplains are, and they may require special permits to build in those areas. But they don't have a law that specifies what the penalties for non-compliance are.

Take, for example, a case in Kanawha County.

The county planning department says floodwaters destroyed seven mobile homes last June. Most of the owners of those homes didn't have flood insurance because, they say, they were never told their homes were in or near the floodplain.

The department found that the owner of the park had violated the terms of a years-ago floodplain agreement.

The owner had taken no action to get homes out of the way of the water, and had rented low-lying land to one renter after another.

That shouldn't be.

As might be expected, not everybody is for Big Brother county commissions being given the power to tell people where they may and may not build.

Some people worry that it's the camel's nose under the tent of the dreaded zoning.

West Virginians really need to grow up a little bit here and take more responsibility for what happens to them.

People who insist on building in flood plains can't blame the fates endlessly when God floods them out.

West Virginia needs to prevent people from building where what they build will eventually be destroyed.