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More relief funds sought for county roads damaged by winter flood

  • Updated
  • 1 min to read
7-Mile Bridge

A photo taken in February of 7 Mile Bridge shows damage from the winter flood.

Walla Walla County commissioners on Monday agreed to apply for Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief money with the state Department of Transportation to help repair flood damage on Old U.S. Highway 12.

An estimate to repair a 150-foot stretch of the road’s retaining wall — just upstream of Wallula Bridge (on Wallula Avenue) along the right bank of Mill Creek — is $200,000, according to Tony Garcia, Walla Walla County Public Works director. But with the grant, the county only needs to match about 13.5% of the costs.

The highway was just one of many roads damaged in February by record flooding from Mill Creek and other waterways. Mill Creek, in particular, undermined the roadway’s retaining wall with high water flows, which edged upward of 7,000 cubic feet per second in areas.

Monday’s decision authorizes an agency agreement to receive the funds pursued by Public Works.

The federal relief money is one of three sources tapped to help fix the county’s roads damaged by the flood. The others are the Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance program, with a 25% local match requirement, and the Army Corps of Engineers Public Law 84-99 program, which doesn’t have a match requirement.

The roads to be fixed are classified as either “major collectors,” higher-trafficked roads, or “minor collectors,” lesser-traveled roads, Garcia said.

The relief money can be used for the major collectors, such as the old highway, while the FEMA cash can go to minor collectors, like 7-Mile Bridge, which was completely destroyed, he said.

Garcia said a “sweet deal” for a temporary 7-Mile Bridge would have cost about $200,000 for installation and removal in time for fall harvest, but COVID-19 caused the layoff of many state Department of Transportation workers who would have provided the service. Now, no bridge is expected to be there until the required wintertime months, he said, which must be done for about 10 homes on the other side. Farmers harvesting and residents must use other routes in the meantime.

The permanent 320-foot-long 7-Mile Bridge is expected to be about $6.6 million and come from FEMA money, with the county paying a 25% match.

A second meeting with state leaders in a couple of weeks will help secure more FEMA reimbursements, he said, as many other flood repairs are in the pipeline.

Emily Thornton can be reached at emilythornton@wwub.com or 509-526-8325.

Emily Thornton covers courts and emergency services, as well as other various stories. She has been in the newspaper industry off and on since roughly 1999 and lived primarily on the West Coast, but also Florida and Europe.