How Far From a River Do I Want to Build? Ask Some Regular Americans

NOTE: I wrote this a few weeks ago and sent it to the NYTimes in the hope that it might get published. Well, it didn’t (altho it would have been nice to hear “no” from them, but anyway). So here it is for you to read. I hope you like it better than they did!

If you want a great example of American “think” about property rights versus sensible land use policy in these United States, do what I did this morning. Open the NY Times, read scary stories about record flooding along the Mississippi River and its tributaries (and we thought 1993 floods were bad), send $100 to the American Red Cross, and then google, “how far from a river do I want to build?”.

The first result was on city-data.com, a website on which seven typical Americans posted their answers to the problematic distance-from-river question, originally posed by “potatosoup”:

From UCONN97 [probably a professor, albeit one that flunked spelling]: “I would start with your town. They should have fema maps for your location that can tell you flood info. I would find out if its even buildable before contacting a contractor. Also, be aware of how where you build may incure additional insurance costs. Finally, if you do decide to build on this land, I am hoping that the land slopes towards the water. I would incorporate a walkout basement type of design into your home. This way if there is a flood, your basement and mechanicals might take on water, but it might not neccessarily be a catastrophic loss.”

Okay, fairly rational answer, but UCONN97 assumes that there is some hilly terrain on which to perch potatosoup’s walkout basement and its no-big-costly-deal mechanical systems. That might be true at hilly UCONN, but probably not in the flatlands of the Midwest.

Next, from desertsun in Houston, Texas:

“I know for example in NJ it is illegal to build on a flood plain or what might be labeled  wetlands. And wetlands can be simply defined by the type of vegetation growing there.

Hopefully you are talking about a place not so burdened with govt communist restrictions.

Personally I would want to build over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice.

For those who fear mother nature, build on high ground near as possible to the river. Get the house up some but to me building on piers such as you see in any coastal developed area is unattractive”.

I suspect that “desertsun” moved to Texas (which now allows you to pack your gun visibly) from New Jersey, that “place so burdened with govt communist restrictions.” Maybe desertsun believes that Texas will allow him to build a house “over the river as a first choice or on the river edge as a 2nd choice”. All I know for sure is this: Desertsun, please never ever get appointed to a local planning & zoning board, even in Texas.

“Cosmic” [location unnamed, but then again, he’s c.o.s.m.i.c.] offers us insight into the chicanery of the real estate industry when it comes to buying close to a river:

“The first part is buying the land and being led to believe that it is buildable. Lot of those games probably being run. Reason the land is for sale.

If there has been floods in the area also beware FEMA may have made the place a permit nightmare. That happened down on the Ohio River in some counties. They were pretty laid back in terms of regulations, permits, etc. Had some big floods, FEMA came in and then demanded very, very anal building regulations. Know this one contractor who moved up to my county. Sezs [sic] could not even think about making a living there, anything required a zillion pieces of paper.

Do not assume because the land is there it can be built on. NEVER, NEVER trust them realtor types. You may very well find out after the fact the horrible jam you are in. There may even be houses directly in the area, does not mean you can ever build another. Was out to see a buddy I grew up with couple weeks back in a small town, they have a creek running thru the town. Been a 22 year flood cycle, some very bad. FEMA again demanded some houses be moved, some were jacked up, there are empty lots all over. You never will get permission to build on any of them. Empty land may not be what it appears. FEMA really wants to tear them all down, big fights about it.

I would talk to knowledgeable locals first, hopefully some not in the trades or real estate business and get the history / local buzz of what is happening. Can try just the clerks in the Court House, chat them up a bit, ask would they buy that piece of property?

Go wary into danger. Too close to the wrong river is definitely standing [sic] into danger.”

“rubytue” posted a screenshot–the part about “never never trust them realtor types”–of cosmic’s reply, and then proceeded to tell a story about how the previous owner of her formerly double lot wanted to [and did!] sell off one lot separately even though the lot didn’t “perc”. Somehow rubytue conflated the dopey yet greedy landowner with “them realtor types”, but this mix-up in rubytue’s logic might have been predicted as rubytue lists her location as “sometimes Maryland, sometimes northern VA, depends on the day of the week”. Or maybe the flood threat.

But last, finally, a rationale man, mitch3 from eastern Washington, who posted his answer: “As far as possible, nowhere near it”. Bravo, Mitch! Alas, Mitch must be on a planning and zoning board, for like most land use officials he didn’t really want to make the tough call ie “NO BUILDING ALLOWED. EVER. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. THAT MEANS NEVER. EVER NEVER. END OF STORY”. Mitch wavered, dammit. He followed his bold answer and lost all credibility with this pitiful capitulation: “IMHO [in my humble opinion], anyway”.

NY Times writer John Eligon identified the correct issue this morning: “the river levels [are] so high that vexing questions have again been raised about whether anything can be done to truly ease the threat.” Good question, answered by regular Americans uconn97, desertsun, cosmic, rubytue, and mitch3. They appear to hate govt communist restrictions more than they hate paying taxes for cleaning up potatosoup’s flooded riverfront house. IMHO, anyway.#

Posted on by weedpatchgazette in Conservation and Ecology, Environmental Protection

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