Tracking the Recession: USDA Hands Out Stimulus money for Flood projects
By Stephen C. Fehr, Staff Writer
Money from the economic stimulus package is beginning to flow to states to rebuild aging flood-control structures, such as dams.
Dam safety is among the urgent infrastructure issues facing the nation, according to transportation specialists. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials estimates that $16 billion will be needed over the next 12 years to repair the most critical, high-hazard dams.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, as part of the $28 billion it is getting from the stimulus package, announced April 6 that it would distribute $45 million to 11 states to finance flood control projects. The 27 projects will create an estimated 1,000 jobs, officials said.
The 11 states are Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
"Many dams and other important flood control structures across the country are in a race against time when it comes to their ability to protect people and property from flooding," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a news conference. "This funding is going to projects to avoid the risk of infrastructure failure and the threat that would represent to life and property."
State and local governments provide up to 35 percent of the funding for these projects, with the stimulus money covering the rest.
Though most of the projects are in rural areas, two are in suburban Washington, D.C. The agency said it would give Fairfax County, Va., $4.3 million of $6.2 million needed to repair aging dams that drain into Pohick Creek, which flows in to the Potomac River. Vilsac said the dams will be upgraded to current safety standards.
On weekdays, an estimated 112,000 vehicles travel over four major roads downstream from the dams, which also protect railroads, including a commuter line which carries about 9,000 riders on weekdays. Five utilities will also be protected.
Adair County, Okla., will get $4 million in federal stimulus money for a $6.1 million project to provide and protect water to the city of Stilwell and a rural water district. The local school district that gets water from this system is 94 percent Native American, with a poverty rate of 21 percent.
"This right here will take care of a lot that we need if it comes through," said Stilwell mayor James Collins.
In Worcester, Mass., officials are planning to build two flood control structures with $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds and $1.8 million in local matching funds. The aim of the project, Vilsack said, is to provide some protection from flood damage to 200 homes and businesses serviced by 24 bridges. More than 2,000 residents will benefit, the secretary said.
The Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission offered $3 million to finance watershed rehabilitation projects, which the federal government said it would leverage with $6 million in stimulus money. Vilsack said as many as 168 jobs will be created, providing a $14 million boost to the Georgia economy.
Dave White, director of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, said many of the targeted dams and other flood control structures are deteriorating rapidly.
"What we're often seeing is when that happens the materials that are used to construct the principal spillway system…are subject to weathering," he said. "They can all deteriorate and crack. Metal components will rust and corrode. We try to go back in and repair those. We also have the situation where development has occurred downstream, and it has changed the (dam) classification from like a low hazard to a high hazard. And we have to go in and upgrade the dams' current safety conditions."
Of the $28 billion stimulus money that the USDA received, Vilsack said, $20 billion goes to food assistance. The rest will be spent on infrastructure, rural development and broadband expansion.
For a list of the states and projects, click here.