Army engineers prepared to team up with South Pittsburg for pricey study of flood problems

Army engineers prepared to team up with South Pittsburg for pricey study of flood problems

March 20th, 2017 by Ryan Lewis in Local Regional News

City leaders in South Pittsburg, Tenn., are searching for solutions to the town's frequent flooding problems.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — The cost to study and develop possible solutions to the flooding problems in South Pittsburg could be much more than officials originally estimated.

In April 2016 Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District, said consultants estimated that initial studies could cost $75,000, which she described as "a lot of money to put forward for studies before we ever build the first structure."

Craig Carrington, chief of the Plan Formulation Section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Nashville, said his organization is prepared to share 50 percent of the study's cost, but that it would be a "relatively expensive undertaking."

Last week, Carrington estimated South Pittsburg's portion of that 50 percent match could be up to $300,000.

"Then the construction dollars would start," he said.

South Pittsburg's share would have to come from non-federal funds.

The Corps would examine and define the problem and "really research some ideas to address the flooding," Carrington said.

"Should the city want to move forward with that, the Corps of Engineers can then partner with the city to actually do design and construction," he said. "If we were able to construct something with the city of South Pittsburg, the Corps of Engineers would bring 65 percent of the construction, and the city would [pay] 35 percent of the construction."

Previous estimates have put construction costs for a South Pittsburg flood mitigation plan as high as $25 million.

Carrington said he wanted to "manage expectations."

"These undertakings are not free," he said. "It would be a long-term relationship. It's a journey we would go on. Nothing happens overnight. Things are expensive these days as far as construction."

If South Pittsburg can get the money, officials said the study could start as early as this year, but would take more than two years to complete.

Mayor Virgil Holder said the study would cover all flooding issues within the city limits, including the Richard City area.

He said the city has been unable to dig out or widen some of the overwhelmed streams that have caused past flooding because of environmental regulations.

"We could not go in and remove earth and stones and rocks and trees and all on our own," Holder said. "[The Corps of Engineers] can."

Carrington said the city should start looking for grants to help fund the study with the help of the SETDD.

"What the study buys you at the end is solutions to some level of your flooding and the buy-in from federal agencies, meaning that it would be constructable," he said.

"It's not just pie in the sky. It would actually be a tangible plan. We will never completely stop the flooding in South Pittsburg. What we will try to do is lessen it and separate people and their property from the flood damage."

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