Within the next few years, the city of Milton should join several other communities in the Tri-State on the list of those with floodwalls and levees to protect their residents. In the decades ahead, Milton will learn what those other communities have found: A floodwall can be a very good thing.
In its recent special session, the West Virginia Legislature appropriated $8 million in surplus state revenue to the Milton floodwall project. The money will go toward the 35% match the state and city must meet for the more than $100 million project along the Mud River. The project will be managed by the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The project will consist of 8,000 feet of floodwall, a gate closure and two pump stations. Earlier this year,
Michael Keathley, chief of the Programs and Project Management Branch of the Huntington District, said the Corps figures it will need 135 tracts of real estate to build the floodwall. Only 35 of those are necessary for construction. The rest are easements to allow periodic ponding of water after storms.
Cost estimates for the project have reached up to $143 million. Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, who lives in Milton, said in-kind contributions from Milton will count toward the local match.
"If we have extra fill dirt or do any work on the roads, provide any service as a state or municipality to the project, the value comes off our matching contribution amount," Linville told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Taylor Stuck. "We think we can be in the range of $17 (million) to $20 million off the match."
The city of Milton will be responsible for the floodwall's operation and maintenance. In May, the Milton City Council approved the use of 15% of the municipal sales and use tax, about $68,000 a year, toward floodwall maintenance.
"This is something Milton has needed and has been in the works for 30 years. For us to be able to be a part of this is incredible. This can save people's lives, homes and businesses," Linville said.
The project will have several benefits to the community, Linville said. First, the construction will bring jobs and estimates show a return on the state's investment could be 1.27%, meaning a $100 million project would put $27 million back in the state's coffers, he said.
The wall itself will turn what is currently a 20-year flood plain into a 200- or 250-year flood plain, which drastically reduces the chances of major flooding and will reduce the cost and possibly even the requirement for flood insurance for home and business owners.
A good part of Milton was under water in the flood of March 1997. That part included U.S. 60 through the main part of the city. In modern dollars, it caused about $42 million in damages.
Now that the state and Milton have come up with their shares of the project cost, the floodwall project can move ahead. These projects take time, what with land acquisition, engineering and construction. It could be five years or more before the floodwall is completed and in operation.
It will be worth the wait.