By Jean A. Flanagan
The United States Department of Agriculture Natural
Resource Conservation Service has secured a little more than half of the $29 million price tag for the Lost River Site #16 Dam. There is also a procedure in place that prohibits additional land acquisitions until all the funding has been secured. The lack of funding availability from federal and state sources means the dam will not be built any time soon.
These facts are little consolation to the residents of the Lost River Valley who oppose the construction of the dam. They have taken the matter to federal court twice and were not successful in stopping the project.
A public meeting was held on Monday, Oct. 20 at the Moorefield Church of the Brethren. Representatives from NRCS presented a status update and responded to questions submitted in advance of the meeting. There was also a public comment period.
After a short history of the project, Bill O’Donnell, assistant State Conservationist for Programs with NRCS presented a status report. “The Potomac Valley Conservation District has purchased two parcels of land from willing sellers,” he said. “There is a motion to delay additional land acquisitions until all the funding has been secured.
“Permit applications will be submitted before the end of the year.
“The funding currently available is $10,739,000 federal money and $5,729,000 from Potomac Valley Conservation District.”
[private] Four people submitted a total of 39 questions. The questions relaed to the cost/benefit ratio, flood
damages and need.
In 1974, the NRCS, acting on behalf of the Potomac Valley Conservation District, the West Virginia Conservation Committee and the Hardy County Commission, proposed the construction of a series of flood control dams in the Lost River watershed in the Potomac River watershed. Originally five dams were recommended for the Lost River Valley. Three have been completed, one has been eliminated and one has yet to be built. That is Lost River Site #16.
The purposes of the dam project as stated in the Environmental Impact Study are watershed protection, flood prevention and rural water supply. According to the EIS, “The underlying need for the proposed action is tied to the recurrence of damaging floods in the watershed and the projected need for additional rural water supply through Year 2060 in the Lost Riv-
NRCS provided a timeline which indicated a damaging flood event in the Lost River Valley every 10 years.
Although the EIS says, “Damageable properties include homes, roads, bridges, commercial properties, farm buildings, fencing, crops, pastureland, livestock, agricultural improvements, and public utilities,”opponents of the project insist there has never been a loss of any structures in the valley.
“Not a single home, barn or structure has been lost in all of those flood events,” said Elizabeth Webster, a staunch opponent of the dam.
According to NRCS cost-benefit analysis, the added flood damage reduction benefit for adding Site #16 to the three dams already completed is $135,100. “That would take 229 years to recoup the $29 million,” said Stephanie Slater, also an opponent of the dam.
The need for a rural water supply is also a point of contention by the opponents. According to census data provided by NRCS, the number of people and housing units increased about 10 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Opponents believe the numbers are not representative of the actual population of the Lost River Valley, but are of the Lost River District, a county subdivision.
“Our data shows there was a 3 percent decline in population in the valley,” said Allan Gramprie.
“If there was any increase, it was in vacation and retirement homes and not family homes.”
Gramprie takes exception with the changing scope of the Site #16 project.
“Originally, it was for flood control and recreation,” he said. “In 2004, the argument was that there was an adequate water supply, and the recreational component was removed. In 2006, the need was critical again and in 2009, you may or may not build a water treatment facility. We have to ask if $30 million taxpayer dollars
are best spent this way at this time in light of the changing positions?”
Gramprie also took exception to the tone of the public meeting. After the history, status and questions were answered, there was a public comment period. Each person was given two minutes to speak. Three people signed up to speak. One deferred her time to the next person
on the list.
“I was hoping to have a debate, to talk about the issues,” he said.
“Instead you get an hour and we get four minutes.”
Slater also objected to the location of the meeting.
“I was hoping to have a meeting in Lost River where the residents live,” she said. “Having it in a church is just not right. I go to church to worship the Lord, not debate issues.”
After the meeting was formally adjourned, the PVCD Supervisors agreed to stay and listen to Gramprie’s arguments.
Dan Radke from Lost City asked about the shortfall of funds. “If there is $16 million available and the dam costs $29 million, where does the money come from?”
“We would have to seek additional funds,” said John Hicks, Conservation Specialists with NRCS. “We are waiting for permit approval from the U.S. Army Corps (of Engineers). That could be denied. If it is approved, we will look for funding if the board decides to go forward with the project.”
Hicks said if the project does not go forward, all funding would be returned to the federal and state government. [/private]