Localities team up on flood study

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2008

FRANKLIN—Communities within the Chowan River Basin are gearing up to support a preliminary study of flooding along the Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin rivers.

The survey, which would be completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is not the one Franklin and other localities have sought to help determine the ultimate cause of repeated, significant Chowan River Basin flooding within the past 10 years.

But local officials believe the investigation they are pooling their resources to help fund will be an important step toward protecting area residents from the effects of future floods.

&uot;We will be able to do a better job of interpolating [river data] than you can do now,&uot; Franklin City Manager Bucky Taylor said Thursday. &uot;It will certainly help.&uot;

The $90,000 study is designed to help the Corps of Engineers identify the river locations where stream flow, rain and water quality gauges would be most useful, Taylor explained.

Measurements of total rainfall in Zuni, for example, would have helped Franklin officials prepare for the massive amount of water that was headed downstream following the nor’easter that eventually flooded the city in October 2006, he said.

Franklin had comparatively little rain from that storm, and existing river gauges were not up to the task of warning city officials about the coming deluge of rainwater from areas north of the city.

The Corps would perform the proposed survey under the authority of the Water Resources Development Act of 1990, which requires that communities share half the cost of such studies.

Southampton County’s Board of Supervisors voted Monday to join with the other Virginia localities in the Chowan River Basin to pay the $45,000 local cost. Taylor said Thursday the city has received similar commitments from Emporia, Sussex and Isle of Wight and still awaits word from Greensville and Surry.

Each of the localities has been asked to contribute about $6,400 by the end of the month in order to pay the non-federal part of the cost.

If the study results in the Corps recommending any additional gauges, that extra cost then would have to be covered by additional local, state and federal money.

&uot;Based on the results of this preliminary study,&uot; Franklin Mayor Jim Councill wrote in a letter to area government leaders, &uot;it is hoped that a recommendation will be made by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for appropriation of 100 percent of the funds needed from Congress for a full study.&uot;

The communities have been lobbying for that full review of the area’s three rivers since the flood of 1999. That study also would be conducted by the Corps, which would work to uncover the conditions that might have contributed to the historic local flood levels that have occurred six times in the past decade.

Congress, which directs most of the Corps of Engineers’ work, has approved the survey, but appropriating the money to pay its $500,000 cost so far has eluded legislators.

U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th) told business and government leaders on Monday that he feels confident about being able to get support for the project in the House of Representatives this year.

But the Senate, which would have to agree to any appropriations bill, could be another matter, he said.

&uot;The Senate is just this graveyard where legislation goes and dies,&uot; he said. &uot;I think now it’s just a matter of keeping your fingers crossed.&uot;