City hopes for FEMA money to cover drop gates

Published 10:14 am Friday, January 13, 2012

FRANKLIN—Drop gates to protect downtown Franklin when the Blackwater River floods is one measure the city hopes to complete if it receives part of $10 million in flood-prevention money to be awarded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The city had its eye on the FEMA money last spring, but Emergency Management Chief Vince Holt said the city didn’t get it.

“I don’t know if we missed that application period,” Holt said.

The next application period is in March, and this time the city could benefit from damage caused by Hurricane Irene on Aug. 27.

“Any declared disaster out there gives money to the fund,” Holt said. “Any locality within the Commonwealth of Virginia can submit for their projects, but if the locality was one of the localities impacted by a disaster, the project grades higher.”

Mayor Jim Councill in May said that the city and other localities had dropped out of a study of Chowan River Basin flooding by the Army Corps of Engineers and would instead pursue drop gates on culverts as a cheaper option.

Councill said a regional committee tasked with discussing the project opted to tackle the problem as individual communities instead of regionally.

The Corps of Engineers had suggested the region work collectively to secure a better network of rainfall gauges, possibly using money available from the National Weather Service. Locally, funds are still being sought for these gauges, Holt said, noting that the FEMA grant could cover the cost.

The proposed drop gates would help prevent minor flooding such as what downtown received in 2006, Holt said, but would not help as much in major events such as the 1999 flood after Hurricane Floyd.

Blackwater-Nottoway Riverkeeper Jeff Turner said the drop gates sound like a good idea, but he added that the effectiveness of them has yet to be seen.

“The big issue with something like that is you can’t do it until the water is almost into the city,” Turner said. “If you close them too soon, water can’t get out.”

Turner said the idea is probably worth trying.

Other flood-prevention plans as part of the city’s new All-Hazard Mitigation Plan include an ordinance to require new downtown structures be built with floors a foot higher than the level currently allowed , said Community Development Coordinator Donald Goodwin.

Goodwin said currently all the buildings downtown would be grandfathered in at their original elevation if the recommended ordinance were to pass in the future. The ordinance would only apply to newly constructed buildings or buildings that are significantly damaged or significantly changed.

The plan also includes using existing storm-water and drainage studies to prioritize and implement recommended improvements. Another plan includes working with the Downtown Franklin Association and local business owners to identify and implement flood proofing projects that include measures such as lifting shelves to protect valuable equipment when flood waters enter a building and helping to prevent flood waters from entering a building to help protect structures from future floods.