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Napa River

Napa River flood control project phase moves toward anticipated 2024 groundbreaking

Oxbow Commons bypass floods in Napa

The Oxbow Bypass begins to flood in downtown Napa after a night of heavy rains, Feb. 26, 2019.

After a lengthy delay, the Napa River flood control project is moving forward with an infusion of $48.3 million in federal funds. But the next phase of the project will still require a few more years to break ground.

The project, a partnership between the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, will eventually result in the installation of flood walls north and south of Lincoln Avenue in the city of Napa. After that, another phase of flood control will take place along Riverside Drive, south of Downtown Napa.

The finished project will protect over 2,000 city of Napa properties in addition to properties already protected by flood control efforts, said Richard Thomasser, Napa County Flood Control, and Water Conservation District manager, at a Napa City Council meeting this week.

Construction of the first phase — the flood walls north and south of Lincoln Avenue — is estimated to start in 2024 and be finished in 2025, Thomasser said.

The flood control project began after Napa County residents in 1998 passed Measure A, a now-defunct, half-cent sales tax specifically for flood control. That allowed the county to partner with the federal government to fund flood control projects such as bridge replacements, floodwalls, and the creation of flood plains.

But the Army Corps of Engineers questioned whether remaining flood control projects met federal cost-benefit standards after the 2015, $18.5 million quarter-mile flood bypass was built between the Oxbow District and downtown Napa, according to previous Register reporting. That effectively put the remaining projects in limbo.

However, In January, the flood project was awarded $48.3 million in federal funds to complete those projects. The flood district and army corps of engineers still need to leap past several hurdles before groundbreaking can begin.

For one, the Army Corps of Engineers is currently in a process of receiving federal approval to negotiate an amended project cooperation agreement with the district, Thomasser said. That’s because the current cost-sharing agreement between the district and the corps doesn’t work with the next phase of the project, he said.

“This contribution from the federal government would be a fixed cost regardless of what the actual cost will be, ”Thomasser said. “That’s the most they’re going to provide, so they needed to figure out how to contract that or get that into our agreement.”

Thomasser also said the flood district wants to make sure there are clauses in the amended agreement that allow it to take on certain aspects of the work, which could allow the project to be completed more cost-effectively.

He estimated that the actual cost of the project will add up to roughly $65 million, with the district contributing about $20 million to that total.

“As far as our local strategy, we want to make sure because this is a fixed contribution of funds the corps spends the funds they have as expeditiously and efficiently as possible,” Thomasser said. “And time is not on our side, of course, because $48.3 million today is something else five years from now. So we want to move quickly.”

In the meantime, the flood district is working to advance the project’s design. That will allow the design to be finished more quickly and cost-effectively, and address local preferences with a public review process, Thomasser said.

“It’s not like we’re trying to figure out what we’re doing, we know we have to build floodwalls and levees and things like that, we know basically where they go and how high they are,” Thomasser said. “But there’s some local preferences on things like, what should the wall look like and where should the trail go.”

The district is planning to hold two or three public meetings to showcase what the district thinks the design will look like, he added.

That early design phase is anticipated to start in December and finish about a year from then, according to Thomasser. The corps will begin its design work as soon as the project cooperation agreement is amended, he said, with an expected finish date of December 2023.

Several months before that work is finished, the district is planning to have obtained necessary right-of-way easements from about 88 parcels in the flood project area, Thomasser said.

Then, construction is set to begin in 2024, and finish in 2025.

“We hope to have construction underway by the summer of 2024,” Thomasser said. “It probably will be about an 18-month to 24-month construction window. And we’ll finish up then in the fall of 2025.”

Councilmember Beth Painter said the schedule might seem to take a long time, but she feels it’s fairly aggressive.

Councilmember Liz Alessio said she couldn’t be more excited that the project is moving forward. She added it will eventually allow for more housing to be built in areas now within the flood plain.

Alessio also recalled times when downtown Napa had flooded before flood control projects were put in place.

“I was just shortly a couple of years out of high school and downtown Napa was so steeped in flood that you could barely see the top of some road signs,” Alessio said. “That’s how much water we had in downtown Napa. And it was horrific for local business and homes and the whole community.”

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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