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Flood Project to Assess Fees to Fund More Work

By Laurel Busch
Published: Last Updated on

Flooding in Hidden Valley Jan. 3, 1997. Image by Laurel Busch.The Truckee River Flood Project is ready to become a stand-alone operation and collect fees to help fund construction projects, director Naomi Duerr said at a town hall meeting Monday night.

The meeting kicked off the flood project’s implementation of Senate Bill 175. Passed by the Nevada Legislature this year, the bill authorizes the project to form a joint powers authority, enact fees and use the Washoe County Bond Bank. Until now, the project has been a consortium of entities including Washoe County, Storey County, Sparks, Reno, the University of Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and others.

Costs and Fees

Everyone in the project area will be assessed fees, and residents and businesses “who benefit more” will pay extra fees. Details of how much the fees will be, how they will be assessed and how they will be collected will be developed beginning this fall and will be implemented next summer.

Making the case for imposing fees, Duerr said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will pay about two-thirds, or about $1 billion, of the total $1.2 to $1.6 billion cost of the project. The local share will be about $400 million. Of that, about $100 million will come from the already existing 1/8 cent sales tax. The flood project plans to raise the remaining $300 million by charging the fees authorized by SB 175.

Everyone in the project area will be assessed fees, and residents and businesses “who benefit more” will pay extra fees. Details of how much the fees will be, how they will be assessed and how they will be collected will be developed beginning this fall and will be implemented next summer.

The first comment from the audience, which half-filled the Washoe County Commission Chambers, was “I feel like you’re increasing my taxes without a vote.”

Duerr said she considered the fees to be similar to fees paid for sewer or water services. “You have input, but you don’t get to vote,” she said. The same person cited the increases in the estimated cost of the flood project over the years, and Duerr said there is an urgency to do the work now before the costs go up more.

The fees will allow the flood project to proceed with its list of TRAction, or fast track, projects without waiting for Corps and Congressional approval of the entire flood management plan. Duerr said  TRAction projects worth $340 million are nearly “shovel ready.” An economic study commissioned by the flood project said the TRAction projects would create 14,000 to 19,000 new jobs.

A new area of the flood project Web site with information on the construction projects went live Monday.

Hidden Valley

One of the TRAction projects is intended to help owners of about 60 homes in a portion of the Hidden Valley and about 60 homes in the neighborhood southeast of McCarran and Pembroke. At one time flood project plans included replacing the existing Hidden Valley berm with a new levee, but the cheapest solution (saving about $50 million) will be to raise the houses in the flood zone. Assembly Bill 54, passed this year, authorizes the use of flood project funds for home elevation and flood-proofing projects.

Duerr said buying out some of the properties “is still on the table” and that FEMA prefers buy-outs. However, buying out property owners costs more than raising homes, so only a portion of the homes in Hidden Valley might be eligible.

Flood project staff will bring a home elevation program to its board this fall, and work should begin next summer. Duerr said the homeowner will choose and contract with a contractor, the county will be a party to the contract and the county will pay the bill.

Participation will be voluntary. There is a 10-year limit on the program, so Duerr urged homeowners to register for the program even if they don’t follow through with it immediately.

Gary Schmidt, speaking from the audience, said he “wasn’t stupid enough to build or buy in the floodplain,” indicating he didn’t think he should have to pay to help those who did. Duerr responded that this area was originally mostly meadows and wetland and that there used to be a mentality that people could live wherever they wanted and “tame nature.” Besides, she said, a lot of the people in Hidden Valley and Rosewood Lakes built their homes above the floodplain and were still flooded because flooding doesn’t always follow the flood maps. She said a result of the flood project should be that the flooding will go back to what is on the flood maps.

When a Geiger Grade resident complained about paying fees for work that wouldn’t benefit him, Duerr reminded him that the flood project would benefit the entire community by alleviating flooding at the airport, preventing the damage to I-80 that occurred in the 1997 flood and reducing costs to the National Flood Insurance Program, which is funded by all taxpayers and not just flood insurance premiums. She also mentioned all the jobs that are disrupted by flooding.

She added that runoff from properties above the floodplain runs down into it and contributes to the flooding.

Corps Participation

Roger Henderson, the Corps project manager for the flood project, said the Corps has already spent $25 million working on the plan and expects to receive $10 million more from Congress this fall to continue. It has just started a $1.2 million contract with Kleinfelder for a geotechnical study of the Truckee Meadows portion of the Truckee River. Of that amount, $630,000 is coming from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus funding).

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