Marlinton flood control project under review
Revisions to Corps of Engineers (COE) procedures have delayed the Marlinton flood control project by about six months, but the project appears to be moving forward with the support of Senator Robert Byrd and Congressman Nick Rahall.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, COE projects came under close scrutiny.
According to many experts, COE navigation and flood control projects in the lower Mississippi River destroyed coastal wetlands that could have buffered Katrinaﾒs storm surge and instead funneled flood water into the city. A poorly designed COE floodwall and levee system spelled doom for the city.
In 2006, Senator Russ Feingold and Senator John McCain sponsored legislation requiring independent peer review of COE projects. Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2007, including the peer review requirement, after overriding President George W. Bush's veto.
The COE's work on the Marlinton Flood Control Project is currently undergoing the mandatory peer review, which is expected to be completed by mid-July.
If the peer review is acceptable, the next step will be a project partnership agreement between the COE, Marlinton and the West Virginia Conservation Agency, the town's financial partner.
Rahall's office reported the project is "on target for signing a project partnership agreement for Phases 1 and 2 by the end of summer 2010." Phase 1 is construction of a resident engineer office and Phase 2 is the design of the Riverside levee.
After a project partnership agreement is completed, the Corps will begin real estate acquisition to build the project. Senator Byrd and Congressman Rahall have requested $1.5 million in the fiscal year 2011 Energy and Water Appropriations bill to provide funding for real estate acquisition.
The project will consist of 16,000 feet of levees and floodwalls and provide a 350-year level of protection, equivalent to the flood of 1985. The estimated cost of the project is $195.5 million, 86 percent of which will come from federal funds and 14 percent from the state.
An email from Senator Byrd's office said he has requested that the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee increase the authorization in the Water Resource Development Act to cover the full cost of the project.
The email states that Rahall made the same request to the appropriate committee in the House.
Byrd's email concludes, "Under current criteria, the administration will not budget for the Marlinton project as the benefit/cost ratio for the project is .4 to 1, far below the preferred ratio of 1 to 1."
Marlinton recorder and flood control coordinator Robin Mutscheller said the benefit/cost ratio is nothing new and should not be a show stopper for the project. She said project funding will have to be specifically appropriated, rather than budgeted as a line item.
"That's why there is legislation that has the funding in the legislation," she said. "It would not appear as a line item in the President's budget - is my understanding."
Mutscheller thinks the project will bring great benefits to the town.
"Of course, the obvious is to protect the town from flooding," she said. "But once you give people something to see, that flood protection is actually going to happen, I think you will start to see people re-invest in the town.
"Right now, there are people who don't want to spend the money to paint their homes or fix things up because they think flood protection will never happen. They don't want to invest in our community.
"I think it will also be a huge economic boost - something to help get us through these bad times that we're in right now with the employment. People will be employed. A lot of that money is going to stay in our community."
The largest known floods of the Greenbrier River occurred in 1812, 1877, 1985 and 1996. The flood of record in 1985 resulted in five deaths in Pocahontas County and caused an estimated $97 million in damage in the Greenbrier River basin, with approximately $20 million occurring in Marlinton.