Environmentalists and land owners battle over beaches Legislation now in Senate would cut back on federal flood insurance.


A bitter fight has broken out in Washington over a proposal to protect coastlines by making it much harder to get federal flood insurance.

The House passed the measure easily, but it faces tough sailing in the Senate, and the government's new insurance administrator is dismaying his staff by crusading against it on the hustings.

The legislation, an amendment to a housing bill pending in the Senate, is pitting environmentalists against property owners in a battle over some of the nation's most valuable beaches.

The Coast Alliance, an umbrella group of environmental organizations, has lined up support for quick passage from such national organizations as the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society and such local organizations as the Florida Keys Citizens Coalition and Heal the Bay of Santa Monica, Calif.

"The clearest of lines has been drawn," said Beth Millemann, executive director of the alliance, "between the state coastal zone managers, the conservation community lining up on one side versus the American Association of Realtors, American Association of Homebuilders. . . ."

The amendment's purpose is to limit federal flood insurance protection of coastal property at high risk from erosion. Environmental groups say the flood insurance, unavailable or prohibitively expensive on the private market, has encouraged destructive and dangerous development of the nation's shores. They say it must be cut back.

Property owners and developers, outraged and panicked at the prospect of losing a benefit they have enjoyed for years, call it a thinly disguised federal land grab.

In exchange for continued insurance benefits, the measure would outline areas prone to erosion where new construction or substantial improvements would be limited or prohibited. In the areas of imminent erosion, property owners would be paid to relocate or raze their buildings. If they chose to stay put, their insurance benefits would be limited and they would lose coverage after their next claim.

No one can say exactly how much land or how many structures would be affected by the change.

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