Letter to the editor: FEMA, DNR rules have long-term purpose

By JAMES TWOMEY

Floodplain Zoning Administrator | Ontario

This spring will see many changes in Ontario. The vast majority of at-risk citizens will be immunized against the most dangerous aspects of SARS-2. And about nine buildings in our federally designated floodway will be removed.

What do these issues have in common? Both of them gave us warnings before they struck hard and fast. In the case of a respiratory virus, we heard news reports of MERS and SARS many years ago. We did not imagine that they would affect our lives. So too with buildings in our floodway: we had been put on notice by the Johnson Administration (~1967) that subsidized flood insurance came at the cost of strict administration of certain rules. A FEMA audit in 2019 demonstrated Ontario’s need for more consistent mitigation measures.

Just as the immunization against the mutating virus has costs and benefits, so too does stricter enforcement of floodway regulations. Federal and state authorities compensate owners of flood-damaged structures, and then turn the property over to Ontario for public use in perpetuity. Parks, orchards, gardens, wetlands, grazing and repopulating endangered tree and bird species are just some of the beneficial uses these locally owned and administered parcels can be put to use.

Every elected official I have met in Ontario has expressed deep regret about the suffering caused by the floods of 2007, 2012, 2016 and 2018. Our elected officials have the difficult task of reducing the amount of damage caused downstream by our own structures. Other elected officials upstream of Ontario were also audited and are reducing the number of structures in their floodways to help protect us.

Masks and demolition seem to have nothing in common. However, I believe that they demonstrate the same sense of civic responsibility. Each one of us is a member of a larger community. The governor issued a mask order to protect the most vulnerable folks among us. FEMA and DNR issue regulations to protect communities downstream from us during flooding events. My goal is to communicate with citizens that these actions are not arbitrary. They have a long-term purpose of reducing property damage in the future.

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