Planners to ask Aberdeen for $7 million local commitment to North Shore Levee

Project managers will ask for a $7 million commitment from the city of Aberdeen as they seek state and federal funding for the construction of the North Shore Levee project.

The levee would stretch more than 6 miles across Aberdeen and Hoquiam, and would protect 3,100 properties and 994 businesses from flooding, and remove them from the $1.2 million in required federal flood insurance premiums.

City Engineer Kris Koski used the phrase “putting skin in the game” to describe the request, with state and federal grant programs more often than not reluctant to provide grants to projects that don’t have local funds committed to them.

“For every dollar that is committed locally, we use that as a match to convince other state and federal sources to fund the project,” said Koski. “A lot of these sources, the grant programs, they don’t want to fully fund 100% of the cost, they want to see that you are making a local commitment, as well and providing that match.”

The construction cost of the levee would be close to $80 million.

Koski said to the Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday that the timing is right to make such a commitment to the project.

“This would be strategic timing to make a local commitment to the project,” he said. “There’s what’s called the FEMA BRIC program, and those applications are due in September. That program is an excellent fit for this kind of infrastructure and this kind of investment in the community.”

BRIC stands for Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities; the program is designed to provide funds to help communities shift focus away from disaster recovery spending — federal dollars to clean up after a flood, for example — and rather spend money on solid projects, like the North Shore Levee, to prevent disasters from happening in the first place.

“This grant program allows for very large asks, and the larger the ask, the larger the match, so that’s where the $7 million recommendation from us comes from,” said Koski.

Both Aberdeen and Hoquiam applied for BRIC grants last year, said Koski — Aberdeen for its Fry Creek pump station, which got enough state money for construction to begin in 2022, and Hoquiam for its North Shore Levee West Segment, an extension of the levee protecting properties west of the Hoquiam River, where the North Shore Levee ends.

The $7 million commitment request is Aberdeen’s portion for the North Shore Levee. Since the project benefits both Aberdeen and Hoquiam, “We will be working on a parallel commitment from the city of Hoquiam, so it will really be the sum of the two local commitments,” said Koski, combined to show potential funding sources both cities are committed to the project.

Koski concluded his presentation to the council by highlighting some of the “immense benefits of this project,” including the removal of mandatory flood insurance and floodplain property improvement restrictions.

“And this project directly or indirectly, will create an estimated 1,000 jobs,” he said. “And there are not just the direct fiscal impacts, this is truly an investment in our community.”

Aberdeen and Hoquiam have been successful in securing $25 million in funding for the project over the years; so far, Koski said, it’s all been state and federal funding, no local funding has been required. Of that, about $6.5 million has been spent or is currently under contract.

Currently, the project is in its final preconstruction stage. HDR Engineering was brought on board to finalize the design and permitting phases, and right-of-way acquisition — the purchase of properties in the path of the levee — is underway. The focus is now shifting toward securing funding for the project, utilizing the lobbying firm that successfully promoted the project to the Washington Legislature earlier this year.

“That was an incredible decision by the cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam to bring Gordon Thomas Honeywell (the lobbying firm) on board,” said Koski. “We consult with them regularly, and they keep us in touch with our state and federal delegations, and they’ve just been extremely valuable. And in this next biennium, it’s all about aggressively pursuing our full construction financing as we finalize the design and permitting.”

No formal request was made at the council meeting on Wednesday and no action was taken on the proposed commitment.