RICHWOOD — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials Wednesday outlined steps to be taken during an initial study that local officials hope will eventually lead to construction of a dam and lake as both a long-term solution to flooding along the Cherry River and the long-term economic rehabilitation of the Richwood area.

“Obviously you’ve got a serious problem here, and we want to do everything we can to help,” Mike Corley of the corps’ Huntington office told members of a local committee formed following the Nov. 19, 2003, flood, the city’s worst in 50 years, to pursue a dam and lake on the South Fork of the Cherry, about 6 miles upstream of Richwood.

Local officials also raised the possibility of short-term remedies, noting the city had a dangerously close call with flooding just two weeks ago. Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber said a water line that crosses the river at Fenwick, 3 miles west of the city, was damaged, cutting off service to residents there and costing SMR Technologies, a major area employer, a day and a half of work.

“We came close to losing water in the city, too,” Baber said, noting the city incurred about $10,000 in costs, mainly in overtime for city employees and piping.

“I was out all over the city that day (Nov. 29),” he added. “I saw the senior citizens’ concern. I saw kids with tears in their eyes (as they were rushed home early from school). It touches your heart to see that.”

Baber said he and others know their dream, the South Fork project, will be a long process, but that doing some work in the river channel could provide short-term relief and “buy us a little time.”

Corley said he would have someone in his office contact local officials about the steps involved in obtaining a permit to work in the river. He added the permit process would include involvement of state agencies and “you would need a plan.”

Committee member Ralph Brown, who lives on Green Street in a flood-prone area on the western edge of town, said he knows of five places in a 1,500-foot stretch where the river left its channel two weeks ago.

Longtime Richwooders said the river was dredged following a major flood in 1954 and that channel work was done as recently as the early and mid-1980s.

“You’re not going to be altering a river that hasn’t already been altered,” Baber said.

- - -

The initial study of the Cherry River basin is termed a reconnaissance study, a process officials hope to begin early in 2006 with the appointment of a project manager from the Corps of Engineers and will take about 18 months to complete.

Forty percent of the money for the study, or $100,000, has been approved by Congress and the White House. The corps anticipates the remaining $150,000 will be included in fiscal year 2007 appropriations.

According to the corps, the recon study will include a broad analysis of the problems and opportunities in the watershed, provide basis and recommendation for further studies at the feasibility level, determine federal interest and confirm cost share partner(s) for feasibility studies.

The corps said a recon is not a feasibility study, but it is the first step in the process.

“It leads to the next step,” Karen Miller of the Huntington office said.

“To get to this point, two things had to happen — the authority to conduct the study (obtained through a resolution introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall, D.W.Va.) and the funding,” Worley told local committee members. “You all got both of them. You ought to pat yourselves on the back. In the Great Lakes District, you’re the only one.”

- - -

Also at Wednesday’s meeting:

-- Baber said he had met twice with Gov. Joe Manchin. “He’s very aware of the project, and I think he’s very supportive of the project. I think he likes the idea of hydro-electric power (which the South Fork project could generate).

Committee member Ralph Kelly said a new federal government study indicates the price of oil is not expected to fall, as previous reports had indicated. “I suspect that because of the cleanliness of hydro power, you’ll see a renewed interest in that, and I think that dramatically improves our case.”

-- Baber and others again touted the advantages of the project. Not only would it be a means of flood control and a source of hydro-electric power, he said, it would enhance tourism opportunities through whitewater activities, improve the fish habitat and provide the area with a clean, reliable water supply. He also noted broadband technology “holds some interesting possibilities” for the city, but that it’s hard to promote commerce when there’s a constant fear of flooding.

-- Baber said the Plum Creek Co., the South Fork landowner, “supports us,” and that a letter Plum Creek wrote to Washington “was a critical piece of the puzzle” that resulted in authorization and funding for the initial study.

-- Committee members signed letters to Rahall and Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., thanking them for their efforts in securing the initial $100,000.

-- Committee member Jim Fitzpatrick said he had spoken to local legislators, including Sens. Shirley Love, Walt Helmick and Randy White and Delegate Joe Talbott, “and they all said if we need their assistance, don’t hesitate to call.”

“This is not a pipedream now,” Fitzpatrick added. “We all know it’s a long process, but it’s official now.”

-- Nicholas County Emergency Services Director Joey DeRito said local officials were pleased with riverbank stabilization work performed by Massey Energy following the 2003 flood.

-- There was discussion about a flood warning system contained in a measure passed by the state Legislature last year. “We have to go after funding,” the Corps of Engineers’ Corley said. “It’s a statewide system they’re looking at, all rivers and creeks.”

— E-mail:

React to this story:


Trending Video