Beach `Bank It' Bingo

A HOUSE on the beach. It's the dream of millions of Americans, but not available to most. Now there is growing sentiment for making the beach house harder to attain for everyone.

An amendment awaiting United States Senate action is aimed at discouraging construction on the shore - especially reconstruction of storm-damaged beachfront houses and other structures.

In recent years the federal flood insurance program has, in effect, encouraged the rebuilding of beach homes in vulnerable zones by providing relatively low-cost insurance. Owners have been required to follow federal guidelines on siting and structure to be eligible for the subsidy. Nonetheless, it has been a bargain, especially in the eyes of those whose tax dollars are being used to pay for a luxury they can't enjoy.

Shoreline erosion is a natural process that may be altered or slowed for a time; but sand, water, and wind inevitably have their way. Naturalists point out that imposing man-made structures on these fragile areas hastens change and destroys the very values that are so attractive.

If you have invested several thousand dollars in constructing and maintaining your dream beach house in the face of nature's persistent gouging and probing, you are not likely to accept the idea that nature should be allowed to take its course.

But some observers point out that the federal insurance program has actually, and no doubt inadvertently, encouraged the building of more costly and elaborate structures that require higher insurance and result in more damage than the modest beach houses that dotted American shores in earlier times.

Although the original 1991 House bill to alter the insurance program was passed, 388 to 18, the Senate subcommittee has already weakened the bill, making it less restrictive and and retaining the insurance subsidy even for areas that are susceptible to erosion.

The bill may be voted on by the Senate in mid-June. Even if it provides only a modest revision of a costly and undemocratic program, this legislation should be enacted - as a step toward greater reform.

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