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Armstead bill would jump-start flood protection planning

Ken Ward Jr.

Environment Reporter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A multi-agency group of state officials would be required to resume examination of West Virginia’s efforts to reduce flooding and protect communities against the damaging effects of floods, under legislation introduced Friday by House Speaker Tim Armstead.

The bill appears to be the first move by lawmakers this session to revisit a long-dormant “Flood Protection Plan,” which was published more than a dozen years ago but never fully implemented.

“We need to make sure we, as a government, are doing everything we can to protect lives, prevent flooding and mitigate damage from future floods,” Armstead, R-Kanawha, said in a prepared statement.

House Bill 2935 would create a Flood Protection Planning Council made up of the director of the Division of Natural Resources, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, the executive director of the State Conservation Agency, the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the secretary of Transportation. The council would be charged with reviewing and updating the state’s flood protection plan and recommending ways to reduce floods and mitigate flood damage.

Last July, Armstead called for a review of the plan, following the devastating floods that hit West Virginia a few weeks earlier and a Gazette-Mail report that outlined the state’s failure to follow through, in any systematic way, on the findings and recommendations from the 2004 plan.

Lawmakers heard several presentations on the issue during interim committees last year, but those discussions did not produce any action or legislation.

The 365-page plan, compiled by state and federal officials, included broad recommendations, as well as dozens of specific proposals for better management of flood-plain construction, improved flood warnings, tougher building codes, new regulations on mining and timbering, more rigorous stormwater flow management, new rules for flood insurance and better public education efforts.

The multi-agency task force spent years putting together the plan, only to have the legislation to carry out its work die and no comprehensive implementation of the plan’s dozens of recommendations take place.

“Even implementing all of the recommendations provided in this plan will not completely eliminate the risk of flooding,” the report concluded. “However, implementing the recommendations included in this plan will reduce the flood-related risks to lives and properties in West Virginia.”

Under the bill introduced Friday, the flood protection council would be required to meet at least quarterly. The council would have authority to review the flood plan and make updates to it. The bill gives the council authority to recommend legislation and coordinate planning of flood projects and other things.

The bill also would create a Joint Legislative Committee on Flooding, which would “study all activities relating to flood protection” and make recommendations to the Joint Committee on Government and Finance that “offer solutions to reduce the reality and threat of future loss of life and property damages associated with flooding.”

The chairperson of the flood protection council would report at least once per quarter to the legislative committee and submit an annual report to the Legislature by June 1 of each year.

“While we may not be able to prevent future floods, my goal is that this council and legislative committee will help us establish better warning systems for our citizens and ways to mitigate the severity of future disasters,” Armstead said.

Other sponsors of the bill are Delegates Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas, Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; and Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier.

The measure was sent to the House Committee on Government Organization.

The legislation notes some of the serious flooding effects on West Virginia over the years, including flooding in all 55 counties and 32 major watersheds, more than 282 deaths in the past half-century, and 27 federal disaster declarations since 1996.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at [email protected], 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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