Why do U.S. Taxpayers Have to Repeatedly Pay to Rebuild Storm-Damaged Island in Alabama?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Dauphin Island damage from Hurricane Ivan (photo: recmod.com)

Although it was not impacted by super storm Sandy, a small coastal island off of Alabama has become an example for why the federal government should reconsider its rebuild-it-no-matter-what policy, critics contend.


Since 1979, Dauphin Island has been hit by nearly a dozen hurricanes and major storms, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Most recently, it was blasted by Hurricane Isaac in August of this year. The community of 1,300 residents has received plenty of help to rebuild houses and infrastructure. In fact, at least $80 million in federal tax dollars has been given to Dauphin Island over the decades.


This amount—more than $60,000 for every resident—does not include another $72 million provided to homeowners from the federal flood insurance program.


But Dauphin Island and other coastal communities are beginning to lose support in Washington, where budget deficits have brought together an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, libertarians and fiscal watchdogs known as SmarterSafer.org, which argues that the government should not continue to reimburse people for living in harm’s way.


“The best thing that could possibly come out of Sandy is if the political establishment was willing to say, ‘Let’s have a conversation about how we do this differently the next time,’” Robert S. Young, a Western Carolina University geologist who has studied the way communities like Dauphin Island respond to storms, told The New York Times. “We need to identify those areas—in advance—that it no longer makes sense to rebuild.”


Eli Lehrer, president of the conservative R Street Institute, which is a party to SmarterSafer.org, said: “We simply can’t go on subsidizing enormous numbers of people to live in areas that are prone to huge natural disasters.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

As Coasts Rebuild and U.S. Pays, Repeatedly, the Critics Ask Why (by Justin Gillis and Felicity Barringer, New York Times)

Dauphin Island, Alabama's History with Tropical Systems (Hurricane City.com)

Column: Sandy Reminds Us of Coastal Hazards (by Rob Young and Andrew Coburn, USA Today)


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