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Votes

Help From County, But Not Feds

Supervisors vote to protect Huntington, but FEMA denies individual assistance.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a board matter introduced by Mount Vernon District Rep. Gerry Hyland that called for a plan to “remedy the problem of flooding in the Huntington Community.”

Also at the meeting, hundreds of county employees were thanked for their help in the aftermath of the flood.

Hyland said he was pleased with the unanimous vote on his board matter. “I believe I have the commitment of the Fairfax County Board to do what is necessary to keep the water out of the community,” he said.

But he said responsibility for protecting Huntington should not lie with Fairfax alone. “I suggest that all of the things that we have done at the county, state and federal have created the problem … and all three bear responsibility for fixing it …We are all culpable and responsible for what has happened here … in terms of the cause of the problem and … not taking steps to protect this community. This community should have been protected and it wasn’t.”

BUT HELP from the federal level will not be forthcoming for individuals forced to evacuate due to flooding. FEMA notified Governor Timothy Kaine on Monday that it would not be providing hoped-for Individual Assistance, whether in the form of loans or grants, to residents of Huntington.

FEMA public information officer Daniel Martinez said the letter to the governor read, “It has been determined that the severity and magnitude of damage to the private sector was not of sufficient impact to warrant individual assistance under the [Federal Disaster] declaration.”

Martinez said Fairfax County had demonstrated its resources were adequate to the task of restoring its residents to their homes.

“Fairfax County has done an outstanding job in providing assistance to its local residents,” he said. “If it doesn’t overwhelm the resources that they have … There’s no reason to take it further.”

Hyland disagreed with this assessment. “I’m absolutely outraged at FEMA’s decision … We need the resources of the federal government to help the people get back on the road to recovery.”

He pointed out that FEMA had announced it would help pay for Fairfax to restore infrastructure damaged by the flood. Hyland called this, “the consummate irony. How can FEMA reconcile the fact that they have approved Fairfax county for assistance but not the people in the community who need help the most. It’s inexplicable. It defies logic and reason.”

“[On Monday,] We had a very positive outpouring of thanks to the 900 or so people who helped the folks in this community,” Hyland said. “Yesterday morning we were at the top of the mountain, thanking each other and yesterday evening I’m sure [residents of Huntington] felt at the bottom of the barrel [because of the FEMA announcement.]”

HYLAND included eight studies of Cameron Run with his board matter. They dated from the 1960’s to 2002.

“The bottom line of my board matter and the reason that I included all of these studies is to make sure the board knew what we had done … in terms of these studies … and what we haven’t done in providing a solution,” said Hyland.

In the board matter, Hyland cited “the conclusions reached in these earlier studies that dredging, levees, floodwalls or a combination thereof could protect this community against a 100 year storm.”

He added that development in the decades since the study has only made the problem worse. “Clearly the beltway development, interchanges at the mixing bowl, Telegraph Road, Richmond Highway, the replacement of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, development on either side of the beltway, development of Eisenhower Valley and storm drain improvements to Cameron Run to prevent flooding in the City of Alexandria have cumulatively dramatically changed the amount and intensity of water flooding through Cameron Run next to the Huntington Community and nothing – absolutely nothing – has been done to protect these residents,” the board matter reads.

Hyland said he believes money was at the heart of this inaction. “Someone may have concluded that if you look at the cost-benefit analysis vs. the value of homes they could have perhaps made an argument against spending the kind of money that it would have taken to protect that community … I heard the term cost benefit analysis and I went ballistic … that is not on the table . This is affordable housing in Fairfax County and we have a policy of preserving affordable housing, and most importantly these people deserve to be protected against water coming into their community.”

THE BOARD MATTER specifically calls for an update of a 1982 report that contained suggestions for protecting Huntington residents and for county staff to return with “a plan to construct a floodwall or other alternative structures and facilities to prevent future flooding in the Huntington community.” It sets a September deadline for the presentation of this plan.

The board matter also called for a “review [of] the responsibility and liability of Fairfax County, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Federal government for Huntington’s flood damage.”

Hyland said he said he wanted to know whether the county’s stormwater and sewage systems had malfunctioned.

But he added that even if answers were produced, that might not mean restitution for his constituents. “Even if you found someone did something they shouldn’t have done or didn’t do something they should have done and there is some culpability … the question is, can you hold them liable to the citizens in this community? … I’m trying to find a way to help these people and to reimburse them and to try to get them past the financial devastation that all of them have sustained ... If theres a way that I can find either state local or federal government to give them a hand I want to do that.”