City’s persistence rewarded with $15 million federal grant to fight flooding

single-meta-cal April 11, 2018

Persistence pays off.

The City of Huntsville has been awarded a grant from FEMA that will fund most of a $15 million-plus flood mitigation project in the northeast quadrant from downtown.

The project will help reduce damages to 600 structures in a location susceptible to flooding, reducing on average some 3 to 3 ½ feet of water during the most intensive storm events, according to Kathy Martin, Director of Engineering for the City of Huntsville.

We just never gave up. We were aggressive. We really believe in the project.”

The improvements are along the Dallas Branch and Pinhook Creek area. The path stretches from land just east of the Memorial Parkway-Interstate 565 overpasses to an area just north of Five Points.

The funding is part of a program initiated after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Because of residual damage done by the storm in Huntsville, the City applied then for assistance. Twice previously the application was reviewed and denied by FEMA and the decision to appeal by the City of Huntsville led to the third-time-is-a-charm success.

“The city just never gave up,” Martin said. “The team really believed in the project and knew it could help many property owners in those neighborhoods.”

Here’s the financial breakdown of what is officially labeled the “Hazard Mitigation Grant for the Dallas Branch and Pinhook Creek Flood Mitigation Project”:

  • $5,251,545 immediately to cover the beginning of Phase II of the three-phase project
  • $14,954,105 is the FEMA commitment through the grant toward the project’s completion
  • $15,908,622 is the estimated cost for the entire project
  • The remainder would be covered by City funds.

As Martin noted, the investment of government dollars in this project is a small fraction of what the financial support from FEMA would likely be should another severe flood event strike the area. In a sense, it’s preventive medicine, rather than treatment, bringing what Martin called “a significant reduction to hazards.”

During heavy rains, out-of-bank flooding is typical, sending water flow overground. The mitigation project will include a detention pond near Dallas Street, multiple drainage structure improvements in area north of the Five Points area and channel widening of Pinhook Creek and Dallas Branch.

Time to start working

The timeline is extensive – but nowhere near the 12-year effort for this grant.

The Huntsville City Council will first need to execute the grant agreement; City funds have been allocated our match for many years.

Once that is accomplished, design work will be completed and acquisition of some 100 parcels of land need to be acquired for the project. Because of the on-going attempt to win the FEMA grant, some properties had already been acquired.

Martin foresees three phases of construction, and she anticipates bidding those over the next two or three years.

“The grant says we have three years to spend the money or request a time extension,” she said. “We’ll be working feverishly to finish the plan and acquisition in the next year or so and will let the phases of construction as they become ready.”

The City prepared an extensive proposal to FEMA to earn the grant, with the number of structures potentially involved, cost-benefit analysis and projecting the potential damage from a 100-year flood (a misnomer there: in engineering terms, it means an event that has a one-percent chance of happening in a given year). It was required by FEMA to have completed 90 percent of the design work to earn approval.

“We’re pleased to see all the hard work pay off,” Martin said.