Tough choices along shorelines

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Sir: Perhaps some of you may recall the following lyrics of a song by Jim Croce: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the ol’ lone ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim.”

We can now substitute “Mother Nature” for Jim.

The most recent episodes of shoreline flooding have alerted various individuals, families, and interest groups about the long- and short-term implications of this environmental situation. Depending on one’s view (political, economic, scientific or otherwise), the rise of the water levels on rivers and on Lake Erie and Lake St. Clair shorelines promises to be an issue which is immediate, ongoing, and complex. Indeed, this is a global issue.

How do we mitigate the costs, causes and consequential effects for those who have chosen to live and/or remain in homes and on properties whose market values or structural safety are compromised by proximity to shoreline flooding or erosion?

To what extent, if at all, should various branches of the government (and the taxpayer) be responsible with respect to the potential thousands of financial claims from shoreline property owners? What responsibilities or liabilities does the affected property owner bear?

The governments’ primary responsibilities, it seems to me, is to ensure the safety of their citizens. Everyone should have a reasonable expectation for personal safety and for the immediate and long-term viability of public infrastructure.

Governments’ responsibility, in my view, is not to underwrite or guarantee specific lifestyle choices, or to make vainglorious attempts to tamper with free-market forces. I sincerely sympathize with the affected property owners and they have my support as it pertains to their expectations for safety and for governmental clarity for the future policy initiatives. I am opposed to opening the Pandora’s Box of governmental financial compensation for the lost or declining property values for owners who have freely chosen to live, build on, and/or remain in areas that are untenable due to natural forces.

Many of the locales in the news have historically had difficulties concerning proximity to shorelines. I am old enough to know that this is not really a “new emergency.” The writing on the wall has been visible for decades, despite intermittent periods of climatic and environmental stability.

Governments have contributed millions to regional efforts aimed at thwarting the forces of nature. Notwithstanding these initiatives, common sense should prevail so that people knowingly resist the impulse to build, invest or remain in areas at risk.

Politicians should also resist the urge to make ill-advised promises or propose half-baked “remedies” solely at the behest of highly motivated interests groups or from non-objective, paid consultants.

Insurance companies regard such properties as ultra high risk. Indeed, some circumstances may even preclude the availability of even getting some types of property insurance. Why then, should government and its taxpayers assume liability costs beyond reasonable, conditional limits as a consequence of such predictable environmental conditions?

Farmland is a more unique and nuanced matter, but the asking prices of shoreline residential properties have trended to well exceed general residential values by virtue of their location, and their aesthetic and speculative allure (owing in many cases to lifestyle choices). The market value of such property in the future may be less certain, perhaps substantially lower.

I know that if I were in the place of some of these citizens, I would be greatly anguished and uncertain. The affected shoreline property owners and residents have a right for government intervention as it concerns their immediate safety, and for the formulation of practical policies which attempt to address the complex issues of climate change, infrastructure, shoreline erosion and rising water levels. With this should come realistic expectations about workable and fiscally responsible strategies. The long-term goal should equitably benefit the general public and not just the relative few. Difficult choices need to be made.

Ray Violet 

Chatham

 

 

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