By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
The two southern Fairfax County communities are both low-lying and vulnerable to ruinous flooding from the Potomac River and its tributaries.
Huntington took up to 14 feet of sewage-laden water after two days of heavy rains in June 2006, seriously damaging more than half its 311 homes. In September 2003, a storm surge came up the Potomac hours after Hurricane Isabel, inundating Belle View and adjacent New Alexandria and damaging more than 200 homes.
But only Belle View and New Alexandria will be eligible for flood-control projects funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It is a conclusion based on federal cost-benefit calculations that Huntington residents find bewildering.
The Army Corps announced last week that Belle View and New Alexandria met the criteria for a $12.7 million combination of flood walls, levees and floodgates to protect the 1.8-square-mile area that includes the Belle View Condominiums, the River Towers high-rise, a shopping center and about 180 single-family homes.
It doesn't mean that the project will be built, only that the community is eligible to compete for federal dollars allocated to the Army Corps for flood control through the congressional budget process.
In November, the corps said the potential remedies for Huntington, a small neighborhood of moderately priced 1940s- and 1950s-vintage duplexes on the south bank of Cameron Run -- the Potomac tributary that overflowed in 2006 -- were not cost-effective by federal standards. The options reviewed by the corps included a flood wall or levee, estimated to cost $35 million, and periodic dredging of Cameron Run, which would cost at least $18 million.
Huntington residents said the issue is about more than the numbers. They wonder why their neighborhood isn't worth protecting -- at least according to the corps' calculus -- while Belle View and New Alexandria apparently are.
"It's very disheartening," said Richard Record, a financial consultant whose home on Fenwick Drive was damaged in 2006. He added that if the county is serious about preserving affordable housing, it should find a way to fix the flood hazards in Huntington.
The corps said it evaluates proposals for such projects based on how they will reduce the costs of damage caused by possible future floods. The formula takes into account potential damage to structures and contents and the costs of emergency services used to respond to a flood.
Chris Augsburger, a spokesman for the corps' Baltimore district office, said the analysis, performed at the request of Fairfax County, was strictly by the numbers, without regard to demographics or economic status.
"The process we used was the same," he said. "The numbers were different from one community to the next. We used the best science and technological modeling available."
Fairfax Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon), who represents both communities, said he had no reason to believe that the corps tilted its methodology to favor one over another.
"The nature of the two communities is different," he said. "But I have no indication that the corps has done anything but give us their best analysis in both jurisdictions."
Hyland said the county and its congressional delegation will continue to pursue funding for both projects. The next step, he said, will be to find $800,000 for a more in-depth feasibility study of Belle View and New Alexandria. Hyland said he intends to push for some of the money to come from revenue the county derives from the penny of the tax rate it sets aside for storm-water projects.
Ultimately, he said, the county probably will have to ask voters to approve bond issues to finance permanent fixes for both communities.