The newspaper’s May 15 editorial, “Low-cost flood insurance leads to bad choices,” recognizes that recent fluctuations in rates for the National Floodplain Insurance Program affect small businesses and property owners in Gardiner and other waterfront cities.
As the editorial points out, the Biggerts-Waters Act of 2012 was intended to modify the flood insurance rates mostly for residential properties on the coast and in other locations subject to flood damage. The rationale of the newspaper’s opinion is that the people who own these high-value properties are taking a risk, and that it is unfair for the average taxpayer to carry the burden of subsidizing the cost of their insurance.
The supposition, however, that property owners in downtown Gardiner for the same reason should not benefit from reasonably priced flood insurance paints an inaccurate picture of our situation.
Most businesses in downtown Gardiner are micro and small businesses, largely owned by sole proprietors working long hours for their piece of the American dream. Most downtown property owners are locals, and many are the same people running the small businesses — some even make their homes in the upper floors.
Gardiner has encouraged such growth in our mixed-use downtown by offering tax refunds for projects that create new housing and office space on our upper floors downtown, but this hardly constitutes a land grab on floodplains by “beachfront developers” as the editorial assert’s.
Furthermore, our cherished historic downtown is in myriad ways not equivalent to a beach house on the coast, and we respectfully differ with your characterization on this matter.
It is untrue to suggest that downtown Gardiner property owners are seeking to get rich off of the National Floodplain Insurance Program by selling out to “developers.” The most recent sale affected by Biggerts-Waters insurance rates was to locate a local food co-op that will be run by Gardiner residents and volunteers, and promises to be an economic driver for Gardiner and farmers in the surrounding region.
We agree that grants and low-interest loans to “floodproof” a building — or an entire downtown area — offer a good solution, but it is an idea that has no immediate financial backing. Floodproofing will not help Gardiner and scores of other cities recover from the current recession.
A better solution is to support both floodproofing and also a separate insurance class for historic districts in towns and cities, the birthplaces of American democracy and culture, that were founded next to the water on which they made their very livelihood. We believe that both remedies should be considered part of a comprehensive solution.
Nate Rudy is director of Economic and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Development for the city of Gardiner. Also contributing to this column were Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, and Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation.