I called my friend Alfred McAfee Jr. to see how he made out in the flood. He’s my longtime yard man and lives in southwest Cobb, ground zero for the worst devastation. He made out OK, but he told me he’d just said goodbye to a friend who came to borrow his pressure washer. That man’s neighborhood got hit hard, houses with water up to the eaves. He asked McAfee what to do about a Dumpster or something to haul away all his ruined stuff — sofas, mattresses, TVs. All he’d accumulated till this week. McAfee told him he thought the county ought to pick that stuff up, not unlike when we’ve had tornadoes take down trees.
These folks are in trouble, most without insurance, living the American dream till the rain hit. And then, all was lost. I’ve seen them on TV, standing knee-deep, saying, “All’s gone.” These are hardworking, middle-class folks. They bought into the mortgage culture, believing in lifting their futures. Many of the flooded houses are new — no lower Ninth Ward here — but now their future is under water.
You might think these folks should have carried flood insurance. I called another friend, Mitch, an insurance agent in Powder Springs. He’s been busy, but mostly with clients calling and hoping that somehow their homeowner policies might cover some of their losses. The majority were out of luck. He spoke of one client who called in the midst of the downpour. This man had flood insurance, but last summer had been notified by his mortgage company that Cobb County had redrawn the flood zone map and his home was now outside its boundaries and insurance was no longer required. So, he’d canceled. But now, as he called Mitch, there was already 6 feet of water in his basement and the worst was yet to come.
The rain was a test of Cobb County’s storm water control competence. By any measure it failed. Those homeowners facing desperation — without insurance — relied on their government that their neighborhood was a safe place to buy a house. How do they rebuild their sense of security that this won’t happen again, come the next rain?
Cobb County certified these developments as inhabitable. And now that we see that they are not, Cobb needs to make it right. It’s the American thing to do — own up to error. We owe it to them, even if it means higher taxes.
For more than a decade we have focused hard on short-term economic development. Many of us have prospered. Our industry encouraged more people to move here so we could keep selling them houses. Along the way our hubris kept us from thinking about the long-term impact on the downstream populace. The weather pattern over the last decade gave us false confidence. We never saw that drought might obscure reality.
Some things we can only do through government. Or, will we stand by and lament the American dream gone down the drain?
Paul Paulson lives in Powder Springs.
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