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our view Storm rebuilding must always be in safer places

September 16, 2018

One of the lessons that Southeast Texans learned after Harvey — and many storms before that — is that some low-lying places just aren’t safe for building, and especially rebuilding. People on the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina are probably going through that same process after being ravaged by Hurricane Florence.

Most of those barrier islands are basically thin strips of sand in the Atlantic Ocean. If you think they would be especially vulnerable to a hurricane, you would be correct.

But when the sun is shining and the waves are gently lapping, the view is gorgeous. Consequently, many people spend considerable amounts of money to build beautiful homes there — and cover them through the National Flood Insurance Program. Should those homes be destroyed by a hurricane like Florence, the cost of rebuilding them will greatly exceed whatever premiums their owners paid. In turn, that contributes to the perennial deficits the program runs and makes Congress less likely to expand it.

The closest thing to a barrier island in Southeast Texas is the Bolivar Peninsula, though it’s a larger land mass that offers more protection for homes and businesses. Still, the peninsula has been hit hard over the years by various storms and suffered considerable damage. It’s mostly rebuilt after Harvey, fortunately with structures that have been elevated and fortified to give them a better chance next time.

When Rollover Pass is plugged, the peninsula will be even safer. More sand will build up on its beaches instead of washing through into East Bay. State and county officials need to finalize the closure as soon as possible; it’s dragged on too long.

Southeast Texans have suffered like the people in the Carolinas, and we hope they can recover from this blow quickly. But not every home lost to floodwaters should be rebuilt, on the East Coast or here.

That’s a tough thing for some homeowners to accept, as it is the for the cities they live in. The residents may not want to go somewhere else; that homestead has memories that aren’t easily abandoned. For that matter, mayors and city councils don’t want their towns depopulated.

Those feelings are completely understandable, but this isn’t an either-or proposition. Even coastal locations like Southeast Texas have plenty of places that are better for rebuilding. They’re a little higher in elevation, and a little farther from the nearest body of water.

We need to find them.

That is where we should put down roots, to give us a better chance of being a survivor instead of a victim after the next challenge.

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