Floodwall, levee possible along Potomac

Floodwall, levee possible along Potomac

Members of the US Army Corps of Engineers presented their preliminary study of the Belle Haven Watershed to Fairfax County officials and community members Tuesday, determining the feasibility of constructing a levee and floodwall surrounding the area that Hurricane Isabel hit hard in 2003.
State Senator Patsy Ticer (D-30) and Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) also attended the meeting, in which the Corps presented preliminary flood control options and costs that peaked at nearly $15 million. The conceptual plan focused on New Alexandria and Belle Haven, two neighborhoods sitting just 35 inches above sea level that were devastated by Isabel.
An alternative including two pump stations, a 3,000 foot-long levee system and 3,600 foot-long floodwall four to six feet above ground had the highest cost-benefit ratio according to the Corps study, which estimated that construction cost at $12.7 million with a $150,000 annual maintenance cost. Fairfax County is funding further study to quicken the process but officials are hoping for federal funds.
“I do think this should be primarily a federal project,” Moran said. “I don’t think it’s fair to expect Fairfax County to pay the lion’s share of it.” Moran indicated the difficulty in getting those funds and said the money would likely come from an earmark.
The Army Corps of Engineers has done similar studies across the country, and Fairfax County will be competing with both national jurisdictions for federal funds, as well as state municipalities.
“Once we get all the study completed and we can prove that there’s a high cost benefit ratio and that this is a necessary project that it competes with all the thousands of projects around the country that’s when I have to go to bat,” Moran said.
Levees, or “earthen berms”, and floodwalls, which would likely consist of steel driven into the ground with a concrete top, were the most common solution offered by the Corps study, which listed the pros and cons of each. Floodwalls take up less space than a levee system, but are more expensive and stand out visually. Levees cost less but take up more space. A combination of both measures, in addition with pump stations, would offer the most protection from a storm surge and flood.
Next steps in the project for Fairfax include meeting with the National Park Service, which has jurisdiction over Dyke Marsh, a potentially affected area that could endure environmental impacts, according to officials. More public inclusion is also on the agenda.
“While we have a plan, and we have a cost benefit ratio there’s 100 other communities competing for a very limited pot,” said John Giglio of the Belle View Area Coalition. “We want to hear from you and hear why you think it’s at least a good enough idea to take it to the next stage, which is further study.”