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Lawsuit seeks to curb development in WA floodplains

The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is asking a judge to stop the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) from making flood insurance available to developers building in floodplains in the Puget Sound area.

In an injunction request filed on Wednesday, the NWF cites other federal agencies that say FEMA encourages people to build in flood-prone areas by covering flood-related losses. They also say floodplain development wipes out habitat for endangered salmon.

Attorney Jan Hasselman with Earthjustice says FEMA has been aware of these concerns for a decade, but continues to underwrite new policies.

"Many of those projects have been built in the last 10 years, when we've known that building in the floodplains is not only dangerous for people, but a real concern for the recovery of salmon."

The injunction asks that FEMA not be allowed to issue any new flood insurance in floodplain areas until it revises its flood protection standards and complies with the Endangered Species Act. FEMA says it has met some requirements of an earlier court-ordered plan to update its standards, and is working on others. A hearing date could be set for February.

Hasselman says the blame isn't all on FEMA. He accuses developers, cities and counties of minimizing or ignoring the likelihood of floods in some areas, because they know government-backed insurance will cover any losses.

"There has been a long time for the industry and local communities to set new standards for floodplain development that would have avoided this problem. For the most part, they've failed that task - and now, regrettably, it's time for the courts to get involved.

Hasselman says FEMA has about 42,000 flood insurance policies in force around Puget Sound, in areas where private companies will not write flood insurance. The agency is in a similar, long-running dispute about flood insurance and the lack of wildlife protection in the Florida Keys.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

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