A fix to an old government mistake, or a handout to wealthy homeowners?

Congressman Tom Rice says a bill he's sponsoring is simply an attempt to right a wrong from more than 20 years ago, when federal maps to protect barrier islands were drawn incorrectly.

He says the maps left out some properties that by law should have been allowed to obtain federal flood insurance.

But environmentalists claim Rice's legislation is an attempt to appease a handful of wealthy ocean front landowners, while forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for damage to those properties from a hurricane.

The bill that came up for discussion in Congress Tuesday would change the map lines under the Coastal Barrier Resources Act, to bring in about two dozen properties in the Inlet Harbour gated community in Garden City.

Rice says a piece of undeveloped ocean front property in Myrtle Beach would also be affected.

He says the Garden City properties are part of a development built in the 1970s, long before the coastal maps were drawn. He says the Inlet Harbour property owners should never have been in the protected zone and denied the right to buy federal flood insurance.

"I'm not trying to add one square inch that wasn't supposed to be excluded under the law to begin with," Rice said. "This is just a mistake. It was an error."

But a spokesperson for a South Carolina coastal environmental group says Rice's bill is an attempt to redraw the lines to the advantage of a few wealthy homeowners.

"They want to ask everyone to take on the burden of the risk so they don't have to shoulder it all themselves," said Nancy Cave, north coast director for the Coastal Conservation League.

Cave says people who make the decision to build million-dollar homes along the ocean should have to accept the flood risk that goes with it.

"We, the state, the federal government, can't keep paying for homes that are in communities that are right in harm's way," Cave said.

Rice says updating the maps does nothing to harm beaches or wetlands, and is not an attempt to ask taxpayers to accept any additional risk.

He says officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service know the original maps are wrong and want to correct them.

"The people who drew the map to begin with have now come and said that they made an error," Rice said.

Rice's bill is among several similar bills from at least three other coastal states.