ALL WEST VIRGINIANS HAVE A RIGHT TO LIVE FLOOD FREE

(07/12/2002)

Graduating from college as a chemical engineer, we were consistently told engineers do not treat symptoms, they find cures. While our problems normally dealt with some obscure chemical process, we must now apply these principals to the current situation of flooding in our state.

Many of our elected leaders have accepted as inevitable the yearly flooding which devastates our state.

The deadly, costly, and unacceptable cycle of flood, death, destruction, disease and relief has devastated West Virginia’s families. Why can’t we create a new future, free of flooding?

I am even more incensed by politicians who tell West Virginia families devastated by floods to move to the mountain tops, put their houses up on stilts, or even the cockamamie plan of becoming chicken farmers.

Would we be asking the people of downtown Charleston, who I represent, to move to become chicken farmers if they were flooded?

As a representative of those areas, I would be outraged at the suggestion. I would demand a solution to the problem so my constituents would not be required to move and would request a public flogging of whatever public official suggested such a ridiculous plan (OK, just kidding about the public flogging, but I’m angry!).

Are we to simply give up on Southern West Virginia because of the annual flooding? Because there are many challenges facing it today, politicians have wanted to “sell it off to Virginia” and made other callous remarks.

How soon the state forgets. Southern West Virginia was the economic engine of this state for 100 years and continues to play a significant role in our state’s economic well-being. Thousands of southern West Virginians gave their lives and health in the mines so other parts of the state could have funding.

I have asked Governor Bob Wise to revise the call of the July Special Legislative Session to include a new “Right to Live Flood-Free Amendment” to the state’s Constitution.

Economically, the plan makes sense. We have spent $60 million in the last two years alone on flood relief. This plan would soon pay for itself.

More importantly, this plan makes sense because it will help West Virginia families. It will allow them to live without fear of flooding. It will allow them to live without the death, destruction, and disease floods bring.

The voters of West Virginia should decide this issue. Is every West Virginian willing to spend $12 in insurance to help alleviate flooding in our state? That is the cost of the plan I have proposed.

The plan would have the state issue $250 million dollars in bonds. These bonds would be paid off over 15 years and would cost the state $21 million per year.

The bonds would be used to build dams, floodwalls and other flood mitigation projects that can attract additional federal dollars. A council similar to the current Infrastructure Council would be put in place to decide which projects should be funded.

Additionally, the areas around the dams could be further developed into special hunting, fishing and recreational areas all West Virginians could use and enjoy.

While some legislative leaders will balk and say there isn’t enough money, this year we enacted the largest teacher pay raise in recent memory and a found a revenue source for $200 million in economic development bonds.

Our leaders can make this proposal happen within our budget. Considering we have spent $60 million in relief in the last two years alone, can we afford not to begin focusing on prevention?

Instead of simply pouring millions of dollars into clean-up after every flood, we must be proactive, protect West Virginia’s families, and use our limited dollars efficiently and effectively.

A similar program worked very well in Wheeling.

For years and years, families there endured tremendous flood devastation. After many families were forced to leave the area in search of a safer, cleaner place to live, the state partnered with the federal government and other states to build dams. Now, residents no longer fear heavy rains.

Would you be willing to spend $12 to help achieve this potential future? Ask your legislative leaders and the Governor to put the “Right to Live Flood Free Amendment” before the voters this fall.

Every West Virginian has the right to live flood free, period.

As leaders, we must have the vision to see a West Virginia free of floods. As West Virginians, we must take action to stop this cycle of yearly devastation to our people, our economy, and our budget.

Senator Vic Sprouse is Minority Leader of the West Virginia Senate. He can be reached via email, sprousva@dow.com or by calling his Senate office, 304-357-7901


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