A settlement between environmental groups and the Federal Emergency Management Agency should put the brakes on development in Florida's hurricane-vulnerable coastal areas, according to the organizations. In their lawsuit against the federal agency, the National Wildlife Federation and Florida Wildlife Federation had alleged that managers at FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program failed to study specific environmental impacts of coastal developments before approving flood insurance.
In particular, the groups were concerned about the nesting areas of five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles. By rubber-stamping the insurance for new developments, the flood insurance program has encouraged development near beaches particularly prone to flooding. The risk to the nesting places increases with every seawall designed to protect development that is simply too close to the water, the groups said. Add in oil spills and other pollution, as well as fishing gear, and you have a seriously endangered population.
According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Florida's turtles suffered significant losses in 2010. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill and colder than usual weather depleted turtle populations by hundreds.
The settlement doesn't ban anything or bar anyone from building. Instead, FEMA must ask the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to dissect the flood insurance program as a whole and develop a detailed "biological assessment" of any impacts. The two agencies are responsible for protecting sea turtles.
People and businesses that own property along Florida's beaches should not be affected by the settlement, representatives of the environmental groups stressed. What they want is for FEMA to stop issuing new policies in flood-prone areas, as well as to stop renewing policies for coastal buildings and developments that have been heavily damaged by floods, hurricanes or erosion. With no flood insurance, rebuilding would be at the landowner's risk.
A similar suit in 2005 resulted in changes to development plans in the Florida Keys. Flood insurance was denied to new construction projects that were near natural habitats of rare species. The decision successfully stymied development of several hundred acres of private property.
Source: Miami Herald, "Deal may help turtles, hinder insurance," 01/27/11