Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Flood of Attention for the AJC

I've always been leery of accepting the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a big city newspaper worthy of the reputation that other big city newspapers get by default. My opinion may have been affected by comparing it to other news sources here like Creative Loafing or even from my birthplace. I think they've done a fair job of covering the Hawks (thanks to their recently departed beat writer Sekou) in recent years but a lot of times their news coverage in general just seemed to be lackluster (I might have hinted at this a few months back.)

Well today I'm going to give them credit where credit is due. If you've seen their recent articles looking back at the September floods and doing a little bit of investigative reporting then you know where I'm going with this. These articles highlight a connection that is at the heart of what this blog is meant to focus on: community planning (or lack thereof) and the effect of natural disasters on communities. In other words, bad planning turns troublesome hazards into serious disasters.

Actually, I think the AJC writers working this beat summed things up a bit better than I just did. They found that the Army Corps of Engineers told the community of Austell as early as 1964 that it was built in a bad place. In essence the local government itself has to accept some responsibility for being in situations like 100 and 500-year floods. I doubt anyone working for the city right now though was around back then for us to point the finger at them and remove from office.

Norfolk Southern at some point thought it was wise to place an intermodal yard in Austell even though their location was at "at the lower end of the 245 square mile drainage basin of Sweetwater Creek." Several government bodies tried to stop them from using this site but their attempts were in vain even though the railroad company built retention ponds to control runoff. We'll add go ahead and add Norfolk Southern to the blame list too.

Cobb County, the Atlanta Regional Commission, the State of Georgia, and even the federal government have their own piece of blame to take on to in this for not effectively regulating storm water runoff. We say that we want property owners to control their runoff but we let GDOT, the Department of Agriculture, the Postal Service, and the CDC off the hook for paying their fair share of impact fees.

Probably the worst part of this blame pile is that we place new homes in risky areas (especially ones for families that are probably first-time homebuyers) because we want new businesses, residences, and their tax dollars to come to our communities and we don't want to bother them with expensive fees and delays to cover all of our bases. Actually, the worst part of all this is that all of the entities I just mentioned (except for renters of course) will likely receive some sort of assistance from the federal government if there is a federal declared disaster in their area, which is exactly what happened in September for Cobb and 17 other counties in Georgia. Guess where those assistance dollars come from...your pocket.

So while we continue to hear about more recent disasters in the news its still important for us to look back and see how the people that are trying to move on after previous disasters are doing now and how we can avoid this happening in the future. I had a chance to see some of the areas around Austell affected by these floods and the evidence of the disaster was hidden by normal looking subdivision entrances despite the extent of the damage. Kudos to the AJC for spending time and energy on this (knowing that it isn't easy these days to justify staff time on old issues in the newspaper industry) and I hope that people in key places are learning this lesson, albeit the hard way.

If you're from Atlanta I'd like to hear what you think about this issue in the Comments section. If you're not from Atlanta I'd like to hear about this issue from your neck of the woods (I know this problem is bigger than just our region and state's delusional way of planning and enforcement.)

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