State Resiliency Officer Robert Martin reported to the Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding Sunday about his agency’s efforts to prevent flood related deaths in West Virginia.
Martin talked of multiple flood mitigation projects, one of which included the Milton Flood Wall in Cabell County. He told committee members that Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV, and Joe Manchin, D-WV, are working to appropriate another $190.7 million for work on the Lower Mud River Flood Risk Management Project in Milton to help reduce the risk to local residences and businesses there.
Martin said with the passage of Senate Bill 677 the state is now required to have a new flood resiliency plan in place by June 2024.
“So rather than having an update in December of this year, we have to rewrite and create a new document by June 30 of 2024,” Martin said.
This year, the legislature authorized a $40 million flood resiliency trust fund and $10 million for an existing disaster recovery trust fund. The State Resiliency Office board can request the legislature replenish it annually.
Martin explained to the committee that West Virginia’s new flood protection plan will include efforts to track flood occurrences throughout the state.
“What was occurring, and what hadn’t been done as far as tasks that we needed to do,” Martin said. And likewise, this document will also have to set some priorities. And we have to update it every two years biannually. ”
West Virginia’s Flood Tool will play a big role. The online mapping instrument includes flood mapping data from FEMA and provides floodplain managers, developers, planners and citizens information about the degree of flood risk for a specific area or property.
Martin also talked about collaborative efforts between state, federal and non-federal agencies to share information on flood mitigation to determine how best to serve each other in the future.
He said several “smaller” flood Hydrologic and Hydraulic studies are taking place with assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Some of those are on the way right now, like St. Albans; it’s not a riverine type flooding program,” Martin said, “That’s actually water in a small community that keeps flooding the area.”
Braxton County’s emergency action plan, meanwhile, has been completed, and an outreach program through the elementary schools is concentrating on a fifth-grade educational program.
“The program that they’re doing with multiple Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and the Huntington district, all of them have come together to work on looking at sedimentation and how it’s affecting the streams and flooding,” Martin added.
Del. Mike Honaker, R-Greenbrier, expressed his concern about the cost of flood mitigation being pushed back to the counties.
“You mentioned that the 90-10 instead of 65-30 split,” Honaker said. “It seems like the emergency managers around the state look at this as if it’s in limbo, they’re just looking for an answer. Can you shed any light on that? Are they gonna get an answer?”
“I know Greenbrier County and a couple of other counties that I’ve talked to, are saying, ‘Well if the state don’t pay it, we’re not going to don’t pay it,’” Honaker said. “So we’re going to leave a lot of money on the table, right?”
Martin responded that due to the economic disparity some communities are able to get more state help than others.
“They’ve created it so there’s some leeway now because of communities that are underserved,” Martin explained. “So if they’re an underserved community, they can get a better percentage to work with. But yes, the state right now is not able to come up with all the dollars.”
Asked by Del. Honaker and others on the committee, if there was anything they could do to help him in his role, Martin replied that he’d like to see the legislature consider future bills from a flood resilience perspective.
In wrapping up his report, Martin was asked by Chairman of the Flood Committee Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, to justify the need for further investment by the state to mitigate flood damage.
“Your conclusion is that failing to address it is not a good business decision and addressing it, at whatever level we’re able to, is good business judgment,” Swope said. “And since we have our Senate Finance Chair in the room and just thought I’d have you highlight a few of those.”
“I think flood resiliency and flood mitigation in the state of West Virginia is probably the baseline of economic development for the state,” Martin said. “I think that’s what will create the most prosperity for the state. We can control the water and utilize the water to our good and bend it to our will. We’ll get there. It will create schools that don’t flood readily regularly. We’ll have children who want to come back and stay in the state because they didn’t live and grow up in a flooded area. Business and industry and homes don’t flood regularly and people will stay in them, and economically I think that’s the way to go.”