Groups to split costs of river gauges
MARIETTA – The annual cost for operation and maintenance of two high-tech river gauges designed to provide advance flood warning for Marietta and other Washington County communities is expected to be split among nine entities, according to information discussed during a meeting of Marietta City Council’s finance and planning, zoning, annexation and housing committees Thursday.
“This is a major, significant step toward protecting our communities from millions of dollars of flood damage,” said city engineer Joe Tucker following Thursday’s meeting.
He asked the city council committee to enter into a joint funding agreement for the annual operation and maintenance costs of gauges installed on the Muskingum River at Beverly and on the Ohio River just north of Sardis, Ohio.
Total O&M costs will be $39,000 annually, to be shared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, U.S. Geological Survey West Virginia, USGS Ohio, City of Marietta, Washington County, Morgan County, Free Flow Power (hydro power company), and American Municipal Power.
When the funding agreement is inked by all parties, Marietta’s portion of the annual cost would be $3,800; Washington County $2,400; Morgan County $800; Free Flow Power $3,000; and AMP $2,000.
USACE Huntington would pay $7,000; USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River’s cost would be $5,000; USGS W.Va. would kick in $5,000; and USGS Ohio $10,000.
“Once we get everyone’s commitment signed we can move forward with an entire flood warning system that will be totally in place by 2014,” Tucker said. “It’s the most significant thing we can do to protect the Washington County area from devastating floods.”
He noted the river gauges, which measure not only water height, but also provide vital real time flow data for early flood warning, were purchased and installed for $540,000, with $400,000 from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and $140,000 from USGS.
“There was zero local funding required,” Tucker said.
Marietta council finance committee chairman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said legislation supporting the funding agreement would be introduced during next week’s city council session at 7:30 p.m. in the community building at Lookout Park.
Also on Thursday, the council members aired concerns that $53,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, dedicated to the renovation of the former Colony Theatre, could be lost if work on the theater’s Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms does not begin by July 1.
The CDBG funds, part of the city’s annual entitlement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are to be used to help construct the restrooms.
Theater project director of development Hunt Brawley believes the work will get started by July 1, but noted a lot depends on the sale of historic tax credits that will fund much of the $7.4 million project.
If the CDBG money is not put to use by the theater project by that deadline, Vukovic and the city administration fear that the funding could be withdrawn by HUD.
“We just don’t want that money to go away,” Vukovic said. “None of us want to pull the rug out from under the theater project. Previous councils have always supported the project, but I also want to make sure the city doesn’t lose $53,000 if work on the theater doesn’t get started by July 1.”
Brawley agreed to work with city development director Andy Coleman on a letter to HUD, assuring the federal agency that the $53,000 would be used and that the community supports the Colony project.
“As I understand it, HUD is looking for assurance that this money will be spent responsibly,” Brawley said. “This is about showing that we have a reasonable plan and that the money will be spent responsibly and within the timeframe set by the city for the theater project.”
He noted that other federal and state funding has also been dedicated to the project.
“The whole point of this project is development,” Brawley said. “To create and bolster more revenue for the city’s general fund by eventually generating more income and property taxes for the city. And citizens have already donated around $1.8 million to the project. I think the city should support it.”