Cost of river gauges to be split 9 ways

The annual cost for operation and maintenance of two high-tech river gauges designed to provide advance flood warning for Marietta and other Washington County communities is expected to be split among nine separate entities, according to information discussed during a joint meeting of Marietta City Council’s finance and planning, zoning, annexation and housing committees Thursday.

“This is a major, significant step toward protecting our communities from millions of dollars of flood damage,” said city engineer Joe Tucker following Thursday’s meeting.

He asked the city council committee to enter into a joint funding agreement for the annual operation and maintenance costs of gauges installed on the Muskingum River at Beverly and on the Ohio River just north of Sardis.

Total operation and maintenance costs will be $39,000 annually, to be shared by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, U.S. Geological Survey West Virginia, USGS Ohio, City of Marietta, Washington County, Morgan County, Free Flow Power (hydro power company) and American Municipal Power.

When the funding agreement is inked by all parties, Marietta’s portion of the annual cost would be $3,800; Washington County $2,400; Morgan County $800; Free Flow Power $3,000; and AMP $2,000.

USACE Huntington would pay $7,000; USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River’s cost would be $5,000; USGS W.Va. would kick in $5,000; and USGS Ohio $10,000.

“Once we get everyone’s commitment signed we can move forward with an entire flood warning system that will be totally in place by 2014,” Tucker said. “It’s the most significant thing we can do to protect the Washington County area from devastating floods.”

He noted the river gauges, which measure not only water height, but also provide vital real time flow data for early flood warning, were purchased and installed for $540,000, with $400,000 from the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, and $140,000 from USGS.

“There was zero local funding required,” Tucker said.

Marietta council finance committee chairman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, said legislation supporting the funding agreement would be introduced during next week’s city council session at 7:30 p.m. in the community building at Lookout Park.

“We’re looking for our partners to join us in order to make the entire valley safe during major flooding events,” he said.

Also on Thursday, the council members aired concerns that $53,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, dedicated to the renovation of the former Colony Theatre (now the Peoples Bank Theatre), could be lost if work on the theater’s Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restrooms does not begin by July 1.

The CDBG funds, part of the city’s annual entitlement from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are to be used to help construct the restrooms.

Theater project director of development Hunt Brawley believes the work will get started by July 1, but noted a lot depends on the sale of historic tax credits that will fund much of the $7.4 million project.

If the CDBG money is not put to use by the theater project by that deadline, Vukovic and the city administration fear that the funding could be withdrawn by HUD.

“We just don’t want that money to go away,” Vukovic said. “None of us want to pull the rug out from under the theater project. Previous councils have always supported the project, but I also want to make sure the city doesn’t lose $53,000 if work on the theater doesn’t get started by July 1.”

Marietta safety-service director Jonathan Hupp said the administration had developed a list of other city projects that could be funded by the CDBG money if the theater work doesn’t begin on time.

Council president Walt Brothers agreed.

“Our fall back plan is that if we see the theater will not be ready to begin by July 1 we have other projects we can put that money into,” he said.

Brawley agreed to work with city development director Andy Coleman on a letter to HUD, assuring the federal agency that the $53,000 would be used and that the community supports the Peoples Bank Theatre project.

“As I understand it, HUD is looking for assurance that this money will be spent responsibly,” Brawley said. “This is about showing that we have a reasonable plan and that the money will be spent responsibly and within the timeframe set by the city for the theater project.”

He noted that other federal and state funding has also been dedicated to the project.

“The whole point of this project is development,” Brawley said. “To create and bolster more revenue for the city’s general fund by eventually generating more income and property taxes for the city. And citizens have already donated around $1.8 million to the project. I think the city should support it.”

Vukovic said the city has been supportive.

“The only question is, how long can we continue to be supportive without losing the CDBG money?” he asked.

Also on Thursday, the committee members got a first look at a five-year capital spending plan developed by assistant safety-service director Bill Dauber.

He said the plan includes prioritized capital expenditures requested by city departments from 2013 through 2017.

Dauber said, “There are far more requests than money.”

Vukovic asked his fellow council members to review the plan and return with any questions or comments during a future joint session of the finance and planning, zoning, annexation and housing committees.