Realization of a flood protection project for Marlinton seems less likely than ever, since state officials ordered the return of $8.8 million set aside for the the project.
Between 2000 and 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers completed plans for a floodwall and levee system for Marlinton. Fourteen percent of the $200 million project cost was to be paid by the state and the remainder by the federal government. Between 2007 and 2012, the state deposited $8.25 million with the Greenbrier Valley Conservation District (GVCD), the cost-share sponsor for the project. The GVCD invested the money in various interest-bearing accounts.
The Corps of Engineers has maintained that the project’s benefit to cost ratio is too low, roughly 0.4 to 1.0, for the Corps to request an appropriation from Congress. The Corps’ standard is a minimum ratio of 1.0 to 1.0. The project’s only hope always has been an earmark – a funding directive written into legislation by Congress. In March 2010, the House of Representatives banned earmarks to for-profit corporations, but not for government agencies like the Corps of Engineers.
In July, Agriculture Commissioner Walt Helmick and West Virginia Conservation Agency Director Brian Farkas wrote to State Budget Director Mike McKown that the Marlinton Floodwall Project is unlikely to be funded at the federal level.
In October, State Budget Office Director Mike McKown ordered the GVCD to return the project money to the state, along with $570,000 in accrued interest. During its meeting on November 21, the GVCD board voted 3-2 to return the money, as directed by the Budget Office. Two Pocahontas County representatives on the GVCD board, Jerry Clifton and Tim Van Reenen, voted against returning the funds.
“We were told, that night, that the project is not going forward, at this time,” said Clifton. “The federal doesn’t have the money to put into it, so the state requested their part of the money back. Now, if at some time, the project does get funded by the federal, then the state will have to come back up with their part of the money.”
Clifton said he and Van Reenen advocated for a guarantee that some of the money would be allocated back to Marlinton for economic development.
“We were talking, that night, that we wanted to protect Marlinton,” he said. “That was my and Timmy’s side of it. That’s why we voted against it. But we didn’t have a leg to stand on because the board has to rule.”
GVCD Chairman Gary Sawyers broke a 2-2 tie and voted to return the money.
Marlinton Mayor Joe Smith, Recorder Robin Mutscheller, and councilmembers Loretta Malcomb and Louise Barnisky attended the November 21 GVCD meeting to show support for the floodwall project. During that meeting, Corps officials said the project was not dead.
“According to the Corps of Engineers, it is not a totally dead issue,” he said. “But until funding is available, it is just laying there. They made a statement, at the meeting we was at in Lewisburg, that the planning phase of the project is done and, if money was available, they could begin. It is laying on the table, on the back burner someplace.”
Smith was informed that $500,000 of the accrued interest from the project money will be provided to Boxley Materials Company, as a low-interest loan, to expand the company’s operations at Mill Point in Pocahontas County.
The mayor said there is still some hope for the project.
“It is not dead, but it will take a major act of Congress to revive it,” he said.
Corps of Engineers project manager Sherry Adams said the design for the Riverside (west bank) portion of the project had been completed and that a project report was awaiting review at Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. Adams said the state’s withdrawal of set-aside funds could affect the Corps’ decision to review that report.
“Without a cost-share sponsor – we don’t know,” she said. “We’re supposed to brief our headquarters in January. We don’t know if they will actually review the report.”
Adams expects to get more information from her headquarters this month.
“We are holding a conference call with them in January,” she said. “We have scheduled a conference call to get them up to date on where this project is, before they go through their review. At that point in time, we will share with them that we don’t anticipate the cost-share sponsor having as much funding as they’ve had in the past. Then, we’ll find out what their action is going to be.”