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Bill To Keep Homes High, Dry After Disasters In The Last Two Years, Lawmakers Say It’s Time People Stop Building On Flood Plains

The state no longer is willing to fork out cash for houses built on Idaho’s flood plains.

Gov. Phil Batt is backing a bill that would encourage local governments to enforce flood plain management ordinances that prevent residents from building on flood plains unless they have adequate flood-proofing.

The bill would not stop building but would exempt the state from matching cash received from federal disaster funds.

“We’re not going to pay for people who do dumb things,” said Lt. Col. Blair Jaynes, an attorney for the state Disaster Services Division.

Floodwaters broke through dikes in 1996 and 1997, swamping homes in St. Maries, near Cataldo and elsewhere. Warm weather caused mountain snow to melt too quickly, which resulted in millions of dollars in damage.

Idaho spent $10 million last year to provide local matching funds after floods occurred across the state. The federal government paid about $160 million for flood-related relief in Idaho.

“Over the past 40 years, Idaho has had a very relaxed attitude toward where we build,” said Darren Blagburn, a Disaster Services spokesman.

Forty-two of Idaho’s 44 counties have flood plain management plans, but Jaynes said the problem is enforcement.

Beautiful scenery, fertile soil and shade draw people to flood plains, he said.

Rep. June Judd, D-St. Maries, said lax enforcement of flood plain laws has caused her county problems.

She recalled seeing houses with water to their eaves during the February 1996 flood that hit the 10 northern counties.

“They were like that for two months,” Judd said.

Though the state wouldn’t give disaster money to communities that issue permits to build in a flood plain, local governments could ante the cash. If cities or counties don’t provide relief money, property owners would have to rely on flood insurance to cover the loss.

The bill passed the House 62-5 and the Senate should vote sometime this week.

Rep. John Campbell, R-Sandpoint, voted against the measure because it doesn’t stop people from building in flood plains.

“The 1948 flood did very little damage because few people lived on the flood plain,” Campbell said. “They had sense enough to build up.”

Batt said Tuesday that the bill isn’t aimed at any specific community, but is instead an attempt to discourage new construction. Idaho would avoid human suffering and financial hardship if people didn’t build on flood plains, Batt said.

“There’s been three floods in my term,” he said. “It’s a very serious matter.”

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