Floodplains are just not suitable for development

    While some of our elected officials are calling for bigger and taller levees to hold back the annual spring flooding on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which would ultimately just make the floods higher downstream, there is currently a movement in the Missouri Legislature to do something that should have been done decades ago—reduce development in the state’s floodplains.

    A proposal by Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, that would eliminate all tax incentives for projects built within floodplains has already passed the Senate 33-0 and is now in the House. While it is far from what is needed to prevent future catastrophic flooding in our state, it is a first step in the right direction.
    According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, If put into law, supporters of the bill say it would bring an overdue end to the flawed legacy of subsidizing construction within floodplains — development that not only puts itself in harm’s way, but also “pushes more water downstream and means worse flooding downstream,” Koenig said. “Incentivizing this risky behavior is bad government.”
    The bill would not only stop tax-increment financing (TIF) development in floodplains, but also halt TIF incentives for private retail buildings and change the definition of what is a “blighted area.” TIF projects are allowed to use some tax revenue from the development to cover part of the construction costs.
    While the bill could stop some future development in floodplains, it stops short of what really needs to be done—stopping all future floodplain development except for things like parks, sports fields, and agricultural use that can’t be seriously damaged in a flood. That fact hasn’t been lost on some groups that serve as watchdogs for our great rivers.
    “It’s good for the environment, (and) fiscal discipline,” David Stokes, executive director of the Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, told the Post-Dispatch. “If you’re going to build in the floodplain, at the very minimum, make the ones doing it take on the risk,” adding the caveat that he would rather see floodplain development stopped altogether. “Don’t put the risk on taxpayers.”
    Koenig also pointed out that a previous version of the bill was considered last year, but was not passed. And, this year’s proposal was amended to allow for exceptions in Clay, Jackson, and Platte counties around Kansas City.
    More than a decade ago, according to the Post-Dispatch, a similar policy blocking floodplain TIF incentives went into place in St. Charles County. Despite the exemptions in the Kansas City area, supporters of the bill still view it as a strong step in the right direction.
    “Even if they took a few counties out, I still think it would be a great accomplishment,” Stokes told the Post-Dispatch. He said that floodplain development was just one aspect shaping flood risk in the region, along with climate change and “over-constriction” of rivers by levees. “All three of them come into play. The idea that you can get out of the next problem by building bigger, stronger levees is crazy, because it will make the problem worse.
    “I think the average Missourian knows that more levees and floodplain development has got to stop,” Stokes said. “People want to blame the Army Corps (of Engineers) for this, but how about these city councils up and down the river that propose these floodplain developments?”
    Stokes couldn’t be more right. Our rivers, and the communities along them, would be better served if our floodplains were left undeveloped.

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