Gov. Justice signs agreement clearing way for multi-million dollar flood prevention project
Gov. Jim Justice signed a partnership agreement Monday afternoon, putting into motion a plan to provide flood protection to the city of Milton.
"It is something we need to do," Justice said.
In 2019, the district completed a feasibility study which analyzed flooding problems in the city. The study recommended the construction of an earthen levee, or floodwall, to protect the majority of the central business district.
In June, House Bill 149 passed in the West Virginia State Legislature appropriating $8 million in state funds that will go toward creating a floodwall in Milton.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the project would not have been possible without U.S. congressional support that provided $96.2 million in federal funding.
Milton has had a long history of flooding. A member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the flood of record occurred in 1997 with 8 inches of rain falling on the lower Mud River basin. The damage was estimated at a total of $23 million at that time. If the same type of weather event were to happen today, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it would cost the city of Milton more than $40 million in damages.
Milton Mayor Tom Canterbury said he was bubbling all over at the thought of the foodwall. He said it will take a big burden off of his shoulders.
Officials say the new levee project will significantly reduce the risk of flooding within the project area. According to members of the Army Corps of Engineers, that means a flood would only occur every 250 years.
The levee will be about a mile and a half long, with an average height of 19 feet, with some portions as high as 26 feet. The project is expected to begin in the summer of 2021 and is expected to be completed by fall of 2024.
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House Bill 149 passed in the West Virginia State Legislature this week. The bill appropriates $8 million in state funds that will go toward creating a floodwall in Milton.
The bill passed in the House Wednesday, June 19 unanimously. It then passed unanimously in the Senate on Monday.
The federal government will provide 65 percent of the funding, and state and local sources will contribute 35 percent.
The floodwall will put most of the city in a 250-year floodplain.
Legislators say that getting a floodwall to protect the city has been a 20-yearlong effort after a major flood in 1997.
Loretta Wilhelm knows the devastation that flooding can cause after she lived through a major flood in the 70s in McDowell.
"It happens so fast you don’t even know what's happening. You just look up and the water keeps coming up,” she said.
Now a resident and owner of an antique shop in Milton, she sits right in the flood plain and has to pay for flood insurance.
"There was damage to the building when I first came here of the water and stuff on the floors,” Wilhelm said.
When she first moved to the building where her antique shop stands, it had endured one of the worst floods in Milton’s history in 1997, but protection for her and other businesses could be coming because of House Bill 149.
The damage from the storm in 1997 cost about $42 million.
The bill would appropriate $8 million in state funding to go toward creating a flood wall in the city.
The Army Corps of Engineers will provide $93 million for the project if the $8 million from House Bill 149 is passed by July 2019. Otherwise the funds could be reallocated to another state.
The federal government will provide 65 percent of the funding and state and local sources will match that amount with 35 percent.
According to WSAZ news partner, WV MetroNews, the projected cost of the flood wall is $143 million.
Legislators say that getting a flood wall to protect the city has been a 20-year-long effort after the major flood.
"It concerns you because you know you could just wake up and here comes a big flood and just wipe us all out,” she said.
City officials and some residents are worried because the city is in a 27-year flood plain and will be due for another one soon.
The flood wall would put most of the city in a 250-year floodplain.
But not everyone is pleased with the plan for the flood wall. It would only protect part of the city, meaning some neighborhoods would not get the additional protection.
Karen Cremeans lives in south Milton and her house borders the Mud River.
She understands the flood wall could benefit businesses off U.S. 60 and worries how she and her neighbors could be impacted.
"It won’t protect us at all. It's going to push all the water that goes into the town of Milton over this way it’s going to push all of it over on us,” Cremeans said.
But people like Wilhelm are hopeful this would give her peace of mind.
"It’s going to bring more people in, and I think the more people comes in the better our business is going to be because they're going to come in and feel safe. They'll want to buy,” Wilhelm said.
The third reading for House Bill 149 is on Wednesday. If it passes in the House, it will then go on to the Senate for consideration.
If the flood wall becomes a reality, construction is estimated to take five years.