The Army Corps of Engineers announced this week that it would not pay for construction of a flood bypass channel in downtown Napa this year, saying there wasn’t enough money to go around,.
The corps’ regional office in Sacramento needed about $20 million to put the bypass project out to bid this spring, said Julie Lucido, project manager for the Napa County Flood Control District.
Instead, the Corps of Engineers’ Washington headquarters allocated $1.3 million to Napa — only enough money to continue with federal supervision of work already under construction: flood control along Napa Creek and relocation of Napa Valley Wine Train tracks to higher ground.
Given the fiscal pressures in Washington these days, Napa was fortunate to get the $1.3 million, Burt Brown, the corps’ program manager, said Friday.
“There was no guarantee, so yes, we were pleased,” Brown said.
Napa’s $1.3 million came from a pot of $507 million that was awarded to flood projects nationally.
Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd, chairman of the local flood district, said this week’s funding announcement was bad news, threatening to push the scheduled completion of the Napa project back another year to 2018.
Local officials are redoubling their lobbying efforts, trying to see if there is a way to shake more money loose from the Army Corps, Dodd said.
Dodd said he had joined with Napa’s Congressional representative, Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Napa Mayor Jill Techel and the flood district’s Washington lobbyist to make Napa’s case with decision makers.
“If it can be done, it will be done,” Dodd said of the political pressure being applied in Washington. But because federal funding for flood control doesn’t meet the national need, this is an uphill battle, he said.
“Politically, it just appears to be the lay of the land,” he said of this week’s money decisions.
Techel said Napa is at a disadvantage because the corps hasn’t finished updating the flood project’s cost-benefit analysis. This assessment should be done by the time that she and Dodd go to Washington at the end of March for a lobbying visit, she said.
The bypass — stretching from McKinstry Street near the Wine Train station to the river at Napa Creek — will be a giant sluiceway 1,000 feet long, 250 feet wide and 12 feet deep. During the dry months, the city intends to use it as a park and venue for special events. During a major flood, it would carry
50 percent of river flows.
Local officials are arguing that the federal government has already spent millions of dollars to build four bridges over the planned bypass channel.
“We’ve spent millions to get ready for this,” Lucido said. “We need the bypass to get a return on our investment.”
New bridges on First Street and Soscol Avenue were designed with the bypass in mind. The corps is finishing construction of two Wine Train bridges that have no purpose if there isn’t a bypass to cross.
“It’s an extraordinarily important part of the project,” Lucido said of the proposed bypass. “We describe it as the heart of the project.” The latest
$1.3 million allocation assures that the corps can continue to supervise and handle small cost overruns on current federal contracts to finish the rail relocation and extend flood control upstream on Napa Creek, Brown said.
The corps will need additional money at the start of the new federal fiscal year in October to finish supervision of the creek project, Brown said. The creek project is scheduled to wrap up in May 2013, the railroad work this August, he said.
These projects were largely paid for with
$99 million in federal economic stimulus money, awarded outside the usual corps funding process.
Apart from this federal stimulus windfall, the Napa flood project is used to fighting for annual federal appropriations, Dodd said. “We’ve had to bite, scratch, talk to get where we are today.”
Dodd noted that Napa taxpayers have already funded the local share of the flood project through the half-cent sales approved by voters in 1998. This money paid for right of way acquisition and utility relocations. Now it’s up to the federal government to pony up its half, he said.
Had the federal government provided timely financing for its responsibilities, the Napa project might have been finished in 2006-07, Lucido said.