published Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Marion County helps South Pittsburg with flood match

Flash flood hits downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn.
Heavy rains late Wednesday night and early Thursday morning brought flash flooding to downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn. The flooding, which left a layer of mud throughout downtown, damaged many area homes and businesses.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — As this city continues to recover from catastrophic flash flooding on July 10, the threat of a similar event looms with every heavy rainfall.

Marion County Mayor John Graham announced this week that a $410,000 grant from the National Conservation Resource Service was available to "help restore and stabilize six particular areas in the South Pittsburg region that were affected greatly by the flood."

It's one of the few grants officials have been able to find to help in the prevention of another disaster, Graham said, but it requires the city to put up 25 percent of the money, or about $102,000.

City officials already have learned they'll qualify for a $300,000 grant from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

"THDA has done its assessment and has indicated to the city that the amount of other assistance and in-kind support to recover satisfies the matching funds requirement for the Rebuild & Recover grant," said Patricia Smith, director of public affairs for that agency. "We're confident the city qualifies for our assistance."

City officials said they found out about the National Conservation Resource Service grant money only a few days ago.

Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Industrial Development Association, said the funds have to be allocated by Tuesday or they will be "recaptured in the federal budget to be rolled over to the next fiscal year."

If that happened, South Pittsburg would have to "compete" for the money against all the other national disasters that have occurred in recent months, she said.

The Marion County Commission voted unanimously this week to lend South Pittsburg the money needed for the matching funds requirement, subject to both sides working out a repayment agreement.

Officials had "turned over every other potential source" for the matching money, Jones said.

"To put it in place this quickly, there aren't really any other alternatives," she said. "Right now, the city of South Pittsburg does not have available funds to the tune of $102,000 to access this other money. They have to commit that local match."

Commissioner Jane Dawkins, who is also South Pittsburg's mayor, said there is no way to count "in-kind" matching funds toward this grant.

"This has to be cash," she said.

Graham said the city will designate "at least $15,000" per year starting in the next fiscal year's budget to pay back the loan.

If another flood is not prevented, it could have a lasting negative effect on the county's economy and job outlook, he said.

Lodge Manufacturing Co. and Royal Remanufacturing Inc. both were heavily damaged in July's flood.

"I think if that were to happen again, in the case of Royal Remanufacturing, [the county] may lose them," Graham said.

Jones said the grant money will help stabilize the immediate areas that pose the greatest threat, so they can "sustain another rainfall event."

"This won't do everything that's going to have to be done to prevent these types of events from going on," she said. "There's a much bigger, longer-term solution that everybody is going to have to work on."

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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