North Shore Levee project a no-brainer

A pending request to get the Aberdeen City Council to commit $7 million to the North Shore Levee project should be a no-brainer for local decision makers given its importance.

Project managers indicated in a story published by The Daily World on Aug. 14 that they would ask for the multimillion-dollar commitment from Mayor Pete Schave and the City Council amid an effort to secure state and federal funding for the project.

The levee, which would stretch 6 miles across Aberdeen and neighboring Hoquiam, boasts critical benefits to the area. The levee would protect 3,100 properties and 994 businesses from flooding, as well as remove them from the $1.2 million in required federal flood insurance premiums.

The cost to construct the levee, which would directly or indirectly create about 1,000 jobs, is estimated at roughly $80 million. The levee project is currently in its final preconstruction stage.

City Engineer Kris Koski described the commitment as “putting skin in the game” given that state and federal grant programs can be reluctant to hand out grants to projects without the commitment of local money.

“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, who made his remarks during a levee project presentation at an Aug. 11 meeting of the City Council.

“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.”

Koski said time was of the essence.

“This would be strategic timing to make a local commitment to the project. 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.”

Koski was referencing Building Resilient Infrastructure Communities. The program is designed to allocate money to help communities shift focus away from disaster recovery spending and rather spend money on projects, such as the North Shore Levee, to prevent disasters from happening.

“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,” Koski said.

The $7 million commitment would represent Aberdeen’s portion for the North Shore Levee project with a parallel commitment being worked on from the city of Hoquiam.

The pending request would seem to come at a good time for the city of Aberdeen, which has been sitting on the $22 million armory fire insurance settlement it received last year.

But city leaders took a big slice out of that total earlier this summer when they committed to spending $7 million for the construction of the so-called Gateway Center.

The center, which would be located along a busy stretch of East Wishkah Street near the Wishkah Bridge, is being touted as a place corporations would use to host a variety of events. But it feels more like a vanity project — something the city doesn’t really need.

However, there is no arguing the importance of the North Shore Levee project. So it would be much wiser to pony up the dough for the levee, tap the brakes on the vanity project, and commit the armory fire money to things that matter.

The Aberdeen Museum of History, which was also destroyed in the armory fire, comes to mind.