riparian rap

Giving and taking at Birds Point. Levees for Libertarians?

The Cape Girardeau-based Southeast Missourian has done a good job during this flood, and today published a news article mentioning flood easements.

But it should have been on the Op-Ed page.

While acknowledging the 80-year old history and controversy over compensating farmers for flood easements; that is, paying the residents of the Bird Point – New Madrid Floodway for the right to use that land as an emergency floodway, the article ignored two important points:

–While farmers and politicians talk about a “taking” of land in the floodway, nobody mentions the very large “giving” that came about when the huge federal levees were built in the 1930’s.  Land behind them rose greatly in value, and farmers there have enjoyed over 80 years of protection from them; and if they’ve paid at all, paid a small fraction of the cost for that protection.

–This giving was highly subsidized by the US taxpayers, few of whom will see any economic benefit from it.

At any time the Floodway residents could have taxed themselves (and indeed some “drainage districts” do this), built higher levees and bought themselves out of this.  Why didn’t they?  Because the system of big river federal levees to protect farmland could not exist without large subsidies from people living outside the floodplains.  The farmland’s economic output could never support it.

The Missourian raises the specter of collectivization:

One corps [sic] official said the four floodways along the Mississippi River remind him of Soviet Union-era collectivization, taking individual property for the greater good.

What about the federal tax money taken from those of us living on high ground to build levees around the farmers at Birds Point?

The illustration is one of dozens from a BPNM document clearly spelling out operation of the Birds Point – New Madrid floodway.  And this problem is not limited to the United States.