Eleanor Holmes Norton suggests feds should pay for Bloomingdale flooding fix

January 23, 2013
A city worker scrapes sewer overflow from T Street NW after a summer flood. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

More than a month ago, D.C. Water and the city government announced a joint plan to address flash-flooding in the Bloomingdale and LeDroit Park neighborhoods. Today, funding for the $40 million plan has yet to be finalized, and now the District’s congressional delegate is proposing that the federal government pick up the tab.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said in a news release that she has sent a letter to President Obama requesting his administration include the $40 million in his next budget request to Congress. The plan would build stormwater storage tanks on the McMillan Sand Filtration Site north of the affected areas, as well as accelerate construction on a long-planned underground storage tunnel there.

Part of the pitch, according to Norton’s release, is that the feds bear some responsibility for the underlying problem: “The flooding is the result of insufficient capacity in the Northeast Boundary Trunk Sewer (NEBTS), which was constructed by the federal government in the late 1800s,” according to an excerpt of the letter. “Capacity limitations for this sewer were documented soon after it was built, but no substantive action was taken.”

Norton’s office has not responded to requests to review the full letter.

Under scenarios previously discussed by officials, the city government would pay for the accelerated flood relief plans, but the situation has been complicated by the city’s debt cap. By law, the District government can’t spend more than 12 percent of its operating budget on debt service, and it is inching up on that limit. One possible solution would have D.C. Water borrow the money but have the city commit to pay the debt service.

Talks are ongoing, said D.C. Water spokesman Alan Heymann.

The $40 million price tag presents the cost of the Bloomingdale relief plan above and beyond the costs anticipated in the citywide Clean Rivers Project, estimated to cost $2.6 billion through 2025. Norton is also asking Obama for an additional $15 million for the larger project, to which Congress has thus far committed $168.6 million. D.C. Water customers are bearing the remainder of the costs.

Regardless of who ends up paying, D.C. Water said it is committed to moving forward with the plan and meeting a timeline that would starting giving affected residents meaningful relief by the spring of 2014. The agency recently awarded a $12 million contract to PC Construction for preliminary work at the McMillan site.

“The work was so urgent that it needed to get started regardless of who was paying for it,” Heymann said.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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