Flood Committee Working to Make West Virginia Safer - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Flood Committee Working to Make West Virginia Safer

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CLENDENIN, WV (WOWK) - It's been more than a year since historic flood waters killed 23 West Virginians and destroyed millions of dollars worth of property. Now a legislative committee is meeting with both federal and state agencies to start planning ways to better protect residents in the future.

For the first time that committee went out in a flooded community, and it's the only legislative committee allowed to meet outside the statehouse. The Joint Committee on Flooding is a group of 10 lawmakers meeting every few weeks to draft laws that will protect West Virginians from natural disasters. 

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say there could have been $174 million of additional damage and 7 feet of additional flooding if there had not been for the Sutton and Summersville Dams. 

"In Summersville, we had about almost 5 inches of precipitation, and we were able to capture that water. But unfortunately, we had a large amount of rainfall that occurred downstream of the water," Jim Schray of the USACE told the Committee. 

The water upstream of the dams can be controlled, but there are about 600 square miles below where water can't be stopped. So, some downstream cities are asking for more infrastructure. Dr. Henry Baber said Richwood was discussing a dam back in 2003, but it would have cost $200 million.

"Now with 2 schools, a nursing home, 20 roads, a water intake, a sewage treatment plant and sewage lines, we're actually looking at a $200-million event. So I would actually like to get this back on the table," Baber told 13 News.

But even when it comes to the controlled water eventually it has to be released, and lawmakers say there wasn't much communication with emergency responders back in 2016. 

"It sounds like we have a break down with communication between those 2 entities. Not that they're not communicating at all, but that we can do it better," Delegate Roger Hanshaw told 13 News.

Hanshaw is the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Flooding. He said at each meeting they're learning of a new challenge, but in response are drafting possible new laws to fix existing problems.

"We learned from the first responders that there's apparently a problem with hiring people to do the kinds of first response that's necessary in some of these events. So we've already dug into the state personnel code to look at how we can start looking into those barriers," Delegate Hanshaw explained.

The committee hopes to have flood prevention proposals to put on the table by the time the legislative session starts in January. The committee plans to hold future meetings in the coming weeks out in other communities that have been impacted by flooding.

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