Reasonable Federal Rules Yield Unreasonable Result


Poor Tonto Basin. Especially, the folks stuck on the wrong side of Tonto Creek. A lot of rugged individualists have made their homes down in that hardscrabble desert at the north end of Roosevelt Lake, persisting with a blend of guts and sweat.

Mostly, it looks like desert scrub — dry and dusty.

Every now and then, it rains a lot in the highlands and Tonto Creek goes crazy — filling its broad meandering channel and even jumping its banks. It often strands residents on the far side. And sometimes, like last January, it washes away the yards, fences, trailers and even houses built in the river’s capricious and misleading floodplain.

So now many homeowners hope they can qualify for a low-cost federal grant or loan to rebuild.

Just one problem: It makes no sense to spend taxpayer funds helping someone rebuild their house in a floodplain and then bailing them out again whenever the creek rises.

Of course, Gila County should never have approved construction in a floodplain in the first place, but that’s a whole separate can of worms.

But back to the point at hand: Should federal taxpayers help people who built in the floodplain or should people bear the brunt of their own mistakes?

Well, this being government: The question gets complicated.

First, the Federal Emergency Management Agency quite sensibly would rather help people move out of the floodplain than rebuild a house that’s bound to eventually get washed away again. Good. Great idea. We applaud.

Now comes the Catch 22.

Turns out, many of the people living in Tonto Basin built on land subject to flooding, without even knowing it — not perhaps having read the fine print on their title search. Many did not buy flood insurance — which is required by most lenders if a property is located in the floodplain.

So now the county is trying to help affected homeowners apply as a group for federal aid in relocating out of the floodplain. Smart move. Good job.

One catch: Officials with the federal program might not approve the grant because many of the homeowners didn’t have flood insurance. Ah. Gotcha.

Now, we’re a little fuzzy on the connection between not having flood insurance and getting federal help getting out of the floodplain so you won’t need flood insurance. Perhaps the program saves money if it can get partial payments from the homeowners insurance company.

And if that’s not bad enough — a different set of state laws actually prevents people in the floodplain from building dikes and walls to protect their property, since that will cause potential problems for people downstream. So now the homeowners can’t get federal help and can’t even protect themselves.

So it looks like the long-suffering residents of Tonto Basin are stuck once more to a big sheet of bureaucratic flypaper: They can’t get help moving to a place where they don’t need flood insurance because they didn’t have flood insurance — even though FEMA and the county will both be much better off if there’s no one living in the river bed when it floods.

Don’t it seem sometimes like Tonto Basin just can’t catch a break?

We have met the enemy: He is us

Whew: Survived the final three-day weekend of the summer. Finally, no more traffic jams and crazy out-of-town drivers.

Now we can settle back, cruise those unfurling forest highways — pull out the cell phone. Huh?

It turns out people feel more safe and relaxed on beautiful two-lane highways like the Beeline, than on those gridlocked incubators of stress and frustration on which traffic creeps through the Valley, a recent study says.

That’s nice: Clean air, a view of the horizon, trees rustling in the breeze. Only one problem: Rural highways have a much higher death rate per mile traveled than their urban counterparts.

Now, partly that’s because those two-lane roads often lack shoulders, guardrails, adequate signage, passing lanes. But it’s also because drivers relax, stop paying attention, pull out the cell phone and a ThirstBuster and next thing you know, end up in a ditch.

That goes double for almost entirely rural Gila County — with a highway death rate more than three times the state average.

Now, we’d love to blame the flatlanders — streaming through town in party mode.

But the recently published study found that rural drivers actually misjudge the risks of rural roads even more dramatically than our urban counterparts.

So slow it down, dearhearts. No rush: Just be sure you are still able to read the Friday paper — and all the papers to come.

We’d miss you something awful.


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