The fact that Galveston County and Federal Emergency Management Agency are now, more than four months after Hurricane Harvey, at an impasse over the details of how to deal with temporary, emergency housing units — that is trailers and recreational vehicles — in floodplains indicates dysfunction in how the government responds to natural disasters.
The immediate issue, which we reported in an article on page A1 in today’s edition of The Daily News, is that FEMA wants local governments to waive floodplain elevation requirements for temporary trailers and recreational vehicles that it is providing to people whose homes flooded during Harvey.
In other words, FEMA wants local governments to suspend rules about how far off the ground living structures in flood zones must be built. These are rules FEMA demands those governments adopt in the first place if they want to qualify to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Cities such as Dickinson apparently have complied with that demand, but county officials have objected and they have good reason for doing so.
The federal government is playing a short game. It needs to get the trailers on the ground so people can move into them. The county is looking further into the future realizing that a bunch of trailers installed at ground level could pose a real problem during the next hurricane season, the season after that or even 10 seasons from now.
That’s not idle worry. There are trailers in the county today that were installed in response to Hurricane Ike and then flooded during Harvey. The county is rightly concerned that FEMA intends to drop the trailers, declare victory and then leave it to us to deal with the long-term consequences.
Conflict about floodplain elevation rules is not the only example of gears grinding in the post-Harvey emergency housing effort. We’ve reported about people who can’t occupy FEMA trailers that have been parked in their yards for weeks because of conflict between federal and local governments about where and how power poles can be erected.
All this indicates a general lack of real preparation among local, state and federal governments before the storm arrived. They all talked about being prepared, but apparently none of them took their own advice about it.
The impasse over floodplain elevation rules is a good example of an argument that should have been settled years ago. Clearly it would be best if those trailers were installed at elevations that comply with federally mandated floodplain rules. Is that technically and financially feasible? We don’t know, but it seems to us the Federal Emergency Management Agency ought to know and if the answer is no, it’s not feasible, then FEMA should have a plan for mitigating the obvious problems associated with installing trailers at ground level.
• Michael A. Smith