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WV Legislative Interims: Joint Committee on Flooding hears update on State Resiliency Office

By Autumn Shelton, West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Nine months after Senate Bill 677 established the West Virginia Flood Resiliency Trust Fund and placed the administrative authority of the West Virginia Disaster Recovery Trust Fund under the State Resiliency Office (SRO), State Resiliency Officer Bob Martin, on Sunday, told members of the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Legislative Interim Committee on Flooding there is still no money in either account.

According to Senate Bill 677, which was passed on March 11, and became West Virginia State Code §29-31, the West Virginia Flood Resiliency Trust Fund “may be granted an initial allocation” of $40 million from the state’s general revenue fund, and the SRO may request up to $40 million each year to replenish funding.

Additionally, the bill states that the West Virginia Disaster Recovery Trust Fund, “may be granted an initial one-time allocation” of $10 million with allowable requests of up to $10 million in annual funding.

“There’s no money in the resiliency fund or the Disaster Recovery Trust Fund,” Martin said, adding that the SRO also does not have an employee who deals specifically with grant writing, which would help the state acquire available federal grants. However, he said that the SRO has been working with the Governor’s office to determine how they may enter the grant system. 

“It took quite an effort just to get our office a government unique identification number,” Martin said. “The way you go through the process makes it look like you’re a contractor. So we had to work through different things just to get a (Federal Emergency Management Agency) FEMA GO document number so that we would be able to operate and actually apply for grants.” 

In response to a question from Sen. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, about how many people work for the SRO, Martin responded that they currently have three employees–a director, a deputy director and an administrative assistant. 

Additionally, the SRO has an annual budget of between $500,000-$600,000, which is adequate at the moment, but that may change in the future, Martin said. 

“I would expect that if we had to grow post-disaster— if we were going into that mode where we would have to expand quite a bit—we would have to have a significant change,” Martin noted. “But, it may also work if we were able to take people from other agencies that have expertise . . . transfer people in that have expertise in certain areas like budgeting, legal, grants, grant administration – those would be the people that we could transfer into those offices. So, it would be more of a shell move from point A to B, rather than all brand new people.”

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, then discussed the ability for universities to assist with grant writing. 

“The Legislature . . . I believe it was last year, appropriated right at $1 million to both Marshall [University] and WVU (West Virginia University) for grant writing programs to assist entities, whether it be a political subdivision or whatever, throughout the state, so that you have the university capacity for grant writing for any type of grant,” Tarr said. “I would love to see that utilized.”  

Martin said he was “unaware” that a grant writing link existed with the universities, but that he would look into it. 

Committee Chair Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, said, “It looks like, in summary, a great deal of time and effort has gone into just organizational and informational systems–trying to figure out who does what and how, and get the mapping you need.”

Swope added, “You can’t execute a contract until you’ve got all this background work done.” 

He asked Martin how much longer it might take before the SRO may apply for funding, and when work on contacts might begin. 

Martin responded that they are “working through each piece,” however, some projects may start soon. 

“I would like to think that we are less than a year out,” Martin said. “I can’t write a check for that, but I would like to think that we’re less than a year out [from] executing projects.” 

“I would like to have a shovel in the ground in Milton (Cabell County) within the year, so that we can actually break ground there,” Martin continued, adding they may only be able to start the acquisition of abandoned properties that have experienced repeated flooding.

According to Martin, the SRO had started necessary deed and title work to begin the Milton floodwall project, but the federal Water Resources Development Act of 2022 was passed, which increased the federal share of the project costs from 65% to 90%. 

Although this increase in the federal share was good news, it did cause a project setback. 

“What that also did was it meant that the Army Corps of Engineers had to step back and they had to go to their headquarters and come up with, ‘What does this mean? What is the implementation plan for this 90/10 (match) going to mean for everybody?’” Martin said. “They finally got that worked out. I’m glad to say that just this week we got the new amended partnership agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers signed. So, the state’s part is taken care of, but we are still waiting on Milton to get their piece done.”

The SRO is also working on the development of the state’s Flood Resiliency Plan, which must be completed by June 30, 2024, Martin stated.

The former Flood Protection Plan (2004) will serve as the base document for the Flood Resiliency Plan, Martin said, noting that the new document will be presented in a digital format with “easy to read” sections.

“A nonprofit or a community group or a local community will be able to pull the section out that they need, read through it, and . . . look for goals and recommendations and how to implement those within the plan” Martin stated.

“A lot of those communities are marginalized communities,” Martin later said. “They are communities that don’t have the capacity to build what they have and build what they need, nor the people to go ahead and put together the products to go ahead and apply for grants.” 

The plan will also include a resiliency trend calculator, mapping overlays, a list of projects completed, a list of agency recommendations, and an education component so communities have a better understanding of how their actions may lead to flooding. 

“We’re looking to that next piece,” Martin said, adding that he may have gained six months had he known about the “grant writing piece” earlier.

“Now that I know this, I will pursue that piece of it to get others out there to be able to assist with it,” he said.

“I’m not afraid to work with anybody who’s willing to work with us and help us get in the right direction,” Martin concluded.

In addition to Martin’s presentation, members of the interim Joint Committee on Flooding also heard a presentation from Melissa Roberts, executive director of the American Flood Coalition, and a presentation on the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program from G.E. McCabe, director of the West Virginia Emergency Management Agency. 

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