Flood study a no-go for this budget year

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 5, 2007

FRANKLIN—Congress will not fund a Chowan River Basin flood study until at least the 2008-2009 budget cycle, local officials say.

A congressional resolution supporting the Corps of Engineers study was too late for the 2008 budget, which went into effect Oct. 1.

In April, when the House of Representatives and the Senate passed different versions of the biannual Water Resources Development Act — which normally would have been the method of authorizing such a study — getting the survey funded for 2008 became a long shot, anyway.

Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th) sponsored a Survey Resolution in May that called on the Corps of Engineers to review and update a decades-old study of the Chowan and Blackwater rivers. He also made an appropriations request for the money that would pay for the study.

Forbes’ resolution called for the Corps to pay particular attention to &uot;flood damage reduction, environmental restoration, navigation, erosion control and associated water resources issues in the Chowan River Basin, Virginia and North Carolina.&uot;

That resolution authorizing the study, however, was just the first step in a long process toward alleviating flood problems in the area. Both the House and the Senate must appropriate money for the study before the Corps can commence work.

The appropriations resolution came too late to be included in the current year’s budget. But getting the authorizing Survey Resolution passed this year could help shave more than a year off the process, as Congress will now be able to move on the study without waiting for the 2009 Water Resources Development Act to come up for debate.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill said Wednesday that both U.S. senators representing Virginia had responded positively to his recent request that they support the study. The survey has been proposed as a way to help understand repeated flooding in recent years of the Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin rivers, which comprise much of the Chowan River Basin.

Senator John Warner and Sen. Jim Webb both promised to support the study by including it in their budget requests for next year, he said. A House of Representatives’ resolution authorizing the study came too late for it to be included in the current budget’s appropriations packages.

Councill said Corps of Engineers representatives have expressed their own support for the study, calling it their &uot;No. 1 priority&uot; for the next budget year.

&uot;The Corps has met with both senators and said this is the top priority in this district,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re behind this 100 percent.&uot;

Without congressional authorization and funding, however, the Corps is unable to pursue the work, and the project will languish.

Once the Corps completes its initial survey — identifying the factors contributing to floods that have overwhelmed Franklin and some of the surrounding areas in recent years — a second study would be necessary to come up with solutions to those problems.

The cost of the follow-up study would be split 50/50 between the federal government and localities in the affected area. The cost of any work would be shared 75/25.

Federal funding at each point would be subject to the two-step approval process in both the House and the Senate. It is destined to be a long process.

Councill said Virginia’s Senate delegation is &uot;very amenable&uot; to the request of Franklin and seven other communities within the Chowan River Basin.

&uot;They will work on our behalf as soon as proper,&uot; he said.

In a related development, Councill said he expects a report during the Oct. 22 City Council meeting from an engineer consulting for the city on the issue of check valves that could be installed on Franklin’s storm water drainage system to keep that system from becoming the source of downtown flooding when the Blackwater River begins to rise.

Such a situation occurred during the October Nor’easter in 2006, leading to extensive flooding in portions of downtown Franklin.