Why Do We Call a Floodplain a Floodplain?

There is a serious problem developing in the St. Louis Metropolitan areas, which border rivers and have extensive floodplains. Many municipalities are developing the floodplains, placing commercial buildings, retail shopping malls, and high tech corridors within the river flattened plains. The city fathers of these communities are excited about the potential tax base that these developments will produce and have neglected to recognize the importance these flood plains serve to river environments.

Floodplains are, as the name implies, areas that flood. They do so with consistent regularity. In 1993 40 % of St. Charles County was inundated by water. Another serious flood followed in 1995, although not as devastating. Experts claim the reason the 1995 flood was not as serious is due to the fact that many of the levees destroyed in 1993 were not replaced and there was more storage area for water, thus lowering the height of the water.

The Greenway Network, Inc. has been pursuing the Army Corp of Engineers to develop a study that would collect data, not on the specific impact of projects in the floodplain, but on the "cumulative impacts" that all development have on the floodplain. It is the Greenway's contention that every time a new structure goes in the floodplains of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers this adds to the over all affect during future floods. This is especially true if levees are created or raised to protect the floodplain development.

Building in flood plains along streams creeks and rivers offers few long-term benefits. The potential for causing water to rise above and below in filled or levied areas increases with each new development. The loss of vital open green space is critical in urban areas and alterations eliminates habitat for already stressed wildlife. Levees and infill destroy wetlands, which are becoming scarcer each year. Wetlands filter water pollutants, provide water storage, and provide extraordinary habitat adding to healthy biodiversity.

One can understand the philosophy of municipal leaders, which have floodplains within their cities boundaries. If you compare the tax dollars

that are generated from rezoning the floodplain from agriculture to commercial, the potential tax income is substantial and it is easy to see why someone would want to adopt such a plan.

Some municipalities have developed large commercial shopping centers within the floodplains. They are able to build in the floodplain as long as they are above the 100-year flood elevation set by the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) regulations. Realize that the national standards set the minimum regulation. Local governments cannot lower their standards but they can raise their standards if they wish, but few do.

After the great flood (the flood of 1993) there was an attempt to avoid floodplain development. FEMA offers ratings to municipalities who avoided rebuilding in the floodplain after the 1993 flood. There are only two communities that have been given this notoriety, Arnold and Blue Springs, Missouri.

Some communities have received Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to encourage and offer incentives for business to develop in the floodplains. It is one thing to use short-term thinking and build in the floodplain; it is another to help pay for the businesses to develop general tax money. TIF money is designed to be used for blighted and low economically stressed areas. Using TIF money to develop in the floodplains is improper use of the taxpayer's dollars. Since this money comes from the general fund it causes projects those funds were allocated for by the voters to be delayed or eliminated. School districts only levy property taxes that are collected at the end of each calendar year. The property taxes are paid immediately after collection is completed to the school districts and the TIFs usually in January or February of each year. The fact is that TIF's consume all of the additional property taxes that would go to the applicable school, fire, ambulance, and etc district within a TIF boundary.

I would no more offer my tax dollars to be used for businesses to develop in the flood plain than I would offer my taxes dollars to someone to play the games at the casino. We are gambling that the floods will not return. I must be the only resident that remembers the floods of 1993 & 1995. How soon we forget.

 For more information, visit www.floods.org.