Funding for Marlinton flood project in doubt
Every year, the federal government spends about $25 billion on foreign aid, but will be hard-pressed to find $200 million to complete the Marlinton Flood Control Project.
Project manager Karen Miller, with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) Huntington District, said federal budget cuts and efforts to eliminate earmarks, or "adds," raise concerns for the future of the project.
"It definitely creates a concern for the timing, for the length of time" she said. "We don't know how long we're going to be under the concerns that we have right now. I think everyone is fairly knowledgeable that there's talk out there that there might not be any Congressional adds. This year, of course, we don't have a budget yet. This year, next year -- it might be several years into the future before we can even expect another Congressional add and, even the definition of Congressional adds that's out there -- if they're going to cut out earmarks or adds. Obviously, those are concerns for the project."
Earmarks are special instructions in spending bills directing money to projects in representatives' states and districts. Miller said the Marlinton project depends on earmarks because it's not a typical COE project.
"Each year, funds have been congressionally added for the project," she said. "Because it isn't our standard, typical project, we've really had to work to get it through a lot of hoops and hurdles."
The project is non-standard because it does not meet a COE cost-benefit factor of 1.0, according to Miller.
"Looking at an aggregate of what it is that's not going to be flooded -- we take those benefits that we're allowed by these different policies and we compare that to the actual cost of the project," she said. "When we do that, this one falls below 1.0 by a good bit, so we would not be able to recommend this project to Congress."
The COE rated the Marlinton project at 0.41, far below the 1.0 benchmark.
"If we were doing this in a standard fashion, we would go out, look at the problem, make the assessment, and say, 'this project does not meet the criteria of having a positive cost-benefit ratio,' so therefore, we really wouldn't move it forward," Miller said. "We would just consider it a negative report. However, we were told this is a project and you find the best solution."
Congress authorized the Secretary of the Army to build flood control projects in the Greenbrier River Basin in the Water Resource Development Act of 1996.
Since 1997, West Virginia congressmen and senators have appropriated a total of $18.6 million, through earmarks, for completion of a feasibility study and design of the project. The most recent appropriation was in 2009, when the late Senator Robert Byrd and Congressman Nick Rahall secured $1.5 million for the project.
Despite funding concerns, Miller said the COE was moving forward with internal review and necessary local agreements.
"What we are still in hopes of doing is moving forward through the steps, that we have to get through for the project, but again, because it has been congressionally-added, there are those concerns -- that we will meet all our requirements, then see that we do get the appropriations to continue," she said.
The COE is in the final phase of approving the Marlinton project design. Miller said she expects the Army Chief of Engineers to approve the project design and publish a Record of Decision (ROD) for the project by October. The ROD, published in the federal register, states the COE's approval of the project and allows for public and agency comment.
Once the ROD is approved, the COE will finalize two agreements with the Town of Marlinton: a project partnership agreement (PPA) and a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The PPA will delineate the respective responsibilities of the COE and Marlinton regarding project execution and cost-sharing. The MOU will allow COE real estate specialists to conduct property acquisition.
Miller said real estate acquisition could begin as early as next year for the Riverside segment of the project.
"What we're shooting for is sometime during calendar year 2012 that real estate acquisition would begin," she said. "That's the Riverside segment and the caveat being that we've got this basically non-standard agreement that we're putting forward and just the time it takes to get through that."
The project manager added that real estate acquisition should proceed only as far as construction funding had been secured.
"With this type of project, where you're depending on yearly, annual adds, for the federal government side of it, you don't want to get too far advanced until you're comfortable that you have the funding," she said. "That's some of the discussion we're having within the Corps -- at what point do you sign an agreement? Is it when you have all of the funds for the federal side and then, not start doing things until you have been appropriated enough funding?"
The Riverside phase of the project includes approximately one mile of floodwalls and levees from the bottom reaches of Stony Creek to the south side of the Burns Motor Freight property. The Marlinton phase of the project includes approximately two miles of levees and floodwalls along the Greenbrier River and Knapps Creek.
The estimated construction cost of the Riverside phase is $44 million and $151.5 million for the Marlinton phase.
The two phases could be built as separate projects. The Riverside phase could be built first, if Congress appropriated funding, without adverse affect on the Marlinton side of the river, according to Miller. The Marlinton phase could then be built when funds become available.
Maps of the project area and affected properties are available for review at The Pocahontas Times office.