Corps Won't Fund Huntington Project

Cars in an Alexandria parking garage sit in the muddy overflow from Cameron Run after the June 2006 flood.
Cars in an Alexandria parking garage sit in the muddy overflow from Cameron Run after the June 2006 flood. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Flood control measures to protect the Huntington neighborhood near Alexandria that was devastated by high water from Cameron Run in June 2006 will not be eligible for funding through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local and federal officials said yesterday.

Fairfax County had asked the Army Corps to examine the options for preventing a recurrence of the two-day flooding that sent up to 14 feet of sewage-laden water from the Potomac River tributary surging through the community after heavy rains. More than half of Huntington's 311 homes were seriously damaged, causing an estimated $10 million in losses.

The measures under study are a flood wall, periodic dredging of Cameron Run and a government buyout to help residents relocate.

But according to a preliminary analysis by the Corps, county officials will have to look elsewhere for funding.

"We've told them and the community that the benefit-cost ratio does not qualify them for federal funds," said Chris Augsburger, a spokesman for the Corps' Baltimore district office. A final report on the flood control alternatives is to be delivered to the county by the end of the year.

Under the terms of the Army Corps' agreement with the county, the Corps will do 65 percent of the design work on any project that the county selects. But the county will have to come up with the money for construction.

Any flood control measure would be expensive and time-consuming. Officials estimate that a flood wall or levee could cost as much as $35 million and take five to seven years to complete. Dredging to widen the channel could initially cost $18 million and would have to be repeated.

The measures don't qualify under the Corps traditional cost-benefit formula, in which the projected economic benefits to private interests must be larger than the cost to taxpayers. The formula takes into account potential damage to structures and contents and the costs of emergency services used to respond to a flood.

The Huntington Community Association, which represents the neighborhood of moderately priced 1940s and 1950s duplexes on Cameron Run's south bank, passed a resolution earlier this month calling on the Corps to widen the scope of analysis and take into account the potential for loss of life and the benefits of preserving a long-standing neighborhood.

"It's the cost in human costs -- all those things they don't ever consider," said Mack B. Rhoades Jr., president of the community association. "They need to get out of the mind-set of their stupid cost-benefit analysis that they've been using for years. I just don't get it."

A series of studies stretching back 30 years warned of flood hazards in Huntington and recommended the kind of projects now under consideration. But costs and other budget priorities relegated the studies to the shelf.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday to forward Huntington's resolution to the Corps.

Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said yesterday that the Corps' findings did not end the debate. The county is committed to protecting the neighborhood, he said.

Connolly said the county would lobby the region's congressional delegation and also push the state for financial help. County officials have said the state bears some responsibility because of disruption to Cameron Run caused by construction of the U.S. 1 interchange as part of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project.

"I don't take it as the last word," Connolly said of the Corps' announcement.

The Corps said in a report earlier this year that decades of storm runoff from construction sites was the primary cause of the 2006 flood. Between 1965 and 1999, five to six feet of sediment accumulated in Cameron Run, which drains a heavily developed 31-square mile portion of Fairfax that includes Tysons Corner, Vienna and Falls Church.

The steady narrowing of the channel left storm water with no place to go but beyond the stream's banks.

The county has attempted to assist the neighborhood by reimbursing eligible residents for the cost of flood insurance.

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