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Who's Gonna Pay?

By Madeleine Fortin
December 14, 2005

In August of this year a stunned nation watched the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. Now that the storm has passed, the investigation into "what went wrong" has begun. The national media has reported that the following facilitated the destruction of New Orleans: radical environmental groups sued to stop the Corps of Engineers from constructing vital flood protection projects for the New Orleans area; the levees that the Corps did build were poorly designed and incorrectly constructed; the local government agency with the authority to operate the canal and levee system misspent taxpayer money; and elected officials and agency personnel did not do their jobs.

The story of governmental incompetence and neglect is all too familiar to urban residents and rural farmers in Miami-Dade County, Florida. We have been living with this type of governmental stupidity and abuse for over twenty years. While we have not endured the catastrophic destruction of New Orleans, we continue to suffer with almost yearly flooding for the same reasons that New Orleans suffered.

It is both heartbreaking and terrifying to know that the flooding in Miami could have been prevented if water managers had only opened a control structure called S-197. This is the southernmost structure in Florida's canal system. It can remove billions of gallons of water a day from local canals. Lowering water levels in canals allows ground water to drain into the canal system and be discharged to tide—thus preventing flooding during heavy rains or removing flood water after a storm.

As a result of behind-the-scenes influence by radical environmental groups and the sheer incompetence of the involved federal and state agencies, S-197 was not opened until after Hurricane Katrina had passed and most of the county was already flooded. The same thing happened in October 1999 with Hurricane Irene, and again one year later in October 2000 with an unnamed rainstorm. The National Weather Service provided ample warning for all three storms, but S-197 was not fully opened until after the storms had passed and most of the county was underwater.

The effects of this high ground water and the accompanying flooding are acutely felt by the residents of Miami-Dade's agricultural community. Third and fourth generation farmers watch heartbroken as, year after year, more and more of their fruit orchards die because the Corps and the South Florida Water Management District hold the water table at artificially high levels. Row crops planted in September and October (the beginning of our planting season) stand a good chance of being killed by flooding. Unpaved roads are impassable, stranding many people in their homes.

After Hurricane Irene in October 1999, the flooding was so high and it lasted so long that people in some portions of the county were stranded on their farms for weeks by the flooded roads. Their livestock had no place to go to get out of the water and many had to be shot. Because the roads were flooded, ranchers could not remove the carcasses and had to pour gasoline on them and burn them. I spoke on a cell phone to a staff person at the water management district, begging her to allow the flood water from my community to drain into the canal system. I cried as I told her that I could smell the burnt hair and flesh of these carcasses being burned as I talked to her. Her response was to scream that she would never allow our flood water to drain into the canal system. Then she hung up.

Residents in Miami-Dade's urban areas are no less affected. Cars left in driveways are flooded and ruined. Fences and mature landscape trees fall over because the ground has turned to soup by day after day of high water. Most insurance will not cover this loss. Moldy sheet rock and carpeting must be removed from flooded houses. Many homeowners must have the electrical system totally rewired and many electrical appliances are ruined. Much of this flooding is occurring in neighborhoods that have not been flooded since they were established fifty years ago.

It breaks my heart to know that there is nothing that I, or any other citizen, can do to stop these agencies from flooding us. Because our elected officials refuse to help, there is no way to hold vicious or incompetent agency staff accountable for the effects of their actions.

The flooding in October 1999 and again in October 2000 resulted in $1 billion in flood-related infrastructure destruction throughout the county—all paid for by FEMA. The costs of FEMA from Hurricane Katrina are not yet known. The county agricultural extension agency estimates agricultural losses due to flooding from October 1999 to the present at $1.7 billion. No one knows what private insurance companies and the National Flood Insurance Program have paid out.

Who is going to pay for this malicious destruction? You are, Mr. and Mrs. American Taxpayer! You pay when your tax money is taken out of social programs such as health care or education in order to cover the costs to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program. You pay in higher insurance premiums. You pay when farm land is taken out of production because preventable flooding has rendered it useless.

But the highest price you pay is the loss of your constitutional right to be safe in your own home. Property rights are the foundation of our democratic system, but, when state and federal agencies can flood our homes, farms and ranches with impunity, we have no property rights. When our elected officials refuse to rein in out-of-control state and federal agencies, no one is safe.

Madeleine Fortin
21801 SW 152 Street
Miami, FL 33187
Tel. (305) 255-7098
E-mail: mfortin@bellsouth.net

 

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