By Jim Sharp
As it relates to floodplain management, a buy-out is program through which local municipalities or counties use Federal or state money to purchase developed property within the floodplain. Those homeowners or businesses who wish to participate in the program are then relocated outside the floodplain. Structures remaining in the floodplain are then demolished, and the land converted to public-use greenspace. After the Flood of 1993, more than 9,000 people in nine states participated in voluntary buy-out programs. Those programs continued, so that between 1993 and 2011, FEMA had spent more than $2 Billion buying properties and land in floodplains.
What does a buy-out accomplish? It removes the participant from the hazard, and it breaks the cycle of flood-and-recover, flood-and-recover, flood-and-recover. It obviously does not prevent the flood, but if there are no longer any homes or businesses located in areas that experience repetitive flooding, then people are no longer in harm’s way and do not experience repetitive losses.
Buy-outs, of course, are not the end-all for flood mitigation, and it seems as though Mother Nature always gets the upper hand at some point. A great example of that is Arnold, Missouri. After the 1993 floods devastated parts of the city, 72 property owners participated in a voluntary buy-out program which allowed them to move from their flood-prone properties to new homes outside the floodplain. Problem solved, right? Well, problem partially solved. Certainly, those participating homeowners were likely to never again experience a flood, but it’s important to remember that not every affected homeowner participated in the buy-out, and a “historic” flood is only historic until the next time. That “next time” for Arnold, MO came in December of 2015, when the Meramec River exceeded by almost two feet the record level set during the 1993 flood.