Lawmakers consider using federal funds for flood demonstration projects | News, Sports, Jobs

Photo by Steven Allen Adams DEP Deputy Cabinet Secretary Scott Mandirola explained that a dilapidated property demolition pilot program could be used to demolish properties destroyed by flooding.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia lawmakers are considering using federal COVID aid to demolish flood-ruined properties using a state pilot program.

The West Virginia Legislature gathered in Charleston on Sunday for interim meetings on the first day of July.

The Joint Legislative Committee on Floods met Sunday afternoon and heard a report from the committee’s task force examining how to use American Rescue Plan Act funding for flood demolition projects.

West Virginia received $1.35 billion in ARPA funds in two separate tranches, the most recent in May. The $1.9 trillion plan provided $350 billion in direct funds to states. ARPA allows states to use their allocations for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure projects.

Under US Treasury Department guidelines, ARPA funds may also be used for stormwater or groundwater drainage management and treatment; watershed projects that meet certain Clean Water Act criteria as determined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency; or reuse/recycling of wastewater, stormwater or groundwater drainage.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, presented the task force report to the Committee of the Whole. The task force was formed in January and began its work after the end of the 2022 legislative session in March. Baldwin said the group’s first goal was to determine which state agency would be best equipped to handle a flood demolition program, deciding on the Department of Environmental Protection.

“It seems to me that the DEP is the right person” said Baldwin. “They have a demolition program going on right now and could administer that program alongside their own doing very similar work…we feel we could use their existing application process and existing staffing capacity to administer a program like this, again, alongside what they’ve done before.”

Baldwin said the flood demolition program the task force is discussing would focus on projects beginning with the 2016 flood that did not receive funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency or funding from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development managed by the RISE West Virginia program within the state’s Department of Economic Development. It would also focus on demolitions for flooding since 2016 across the state.

Scott Mandirola, deputy cabinet secretary for the DEP, said the dilapidated structures program would be the perfect fit for a flood demolition program. The $10 million pilot program was funded by the Legislature this year and is expected to begin next month in 22 communities across the state.

“We feel like we could achieve the goal that (Baldwin) has set for himself,” Mandirola said.

The next step for the task force is to determine the appropriate amount of ARPA funding for a flood demolition program. Mandirola thinks the DEP can use existing data to help determine the amount of funding that would be needed.

“We believe we have collected a substantial amount of information on all 55 counties and all municipalities in the state,” Mandirola said. “We sent out a questionnaire before receiving the $10 million request from all of these communities, municipalities and counties. Do you have a program to deal with this? And we asked them a whole list of questions, and we got 81 answers. We started building a database. Since that time, we have reached out and extracted additional information. From there, we can work out roughly… how much it should cost per structure, whether commercial or residential.

Lawmakers will stay in Charleston until Tuesday, unless a special session beginning Monday forces lawmakers to stay longer.

Today’s breaking news and more to your inbox