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Studies Recommended Flood Protection in Fairfax County

Wed August 02, 2006 - National Edition
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ALEXANDRIA, VA (AP) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is investigating flooding in June that seriously damaged more than half the Huntington neighborhood’s 311 homes, making it one of the hardest-hit areas in the region.

Fairfax County officials have forwarded to the Corps a virtual library of data for the inquiry. It includes at least six studies by government agencies examining the neighborhood near the tip of the Cameron Run watershed, which drains runoff from a 42-sq.-mi. area into the Potomac River.

Two of the reports — one completed in 1977 and the other in 1982 — recommended a flood wall or earthen berm to protect against flooding. Officials say they are not sure why the studies did not lead to any action, but it appears the measures were considered too expensive.

County officials, meanwhile, have declined to speculate on what caused Cameron Run to rise an estimated 14 ft. in some locations June 25, blowing out windows, buckling brick walls and drenching basements in raw sewage.

One possible contributor is a construction barge from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project that broke loose during the storm, blocking parts of the stream. Others believe sediment from years of development significantly narrowed Cameron Run, leaving water nowhere to go.

“We’re better off sitting down with the Corps and working things through,” said county public works director Jimmie Jenkins, declining to discuss the possible causes.

The 1977 study proposed a 5,100-ft. berm with a maximum height of 14.5 ft. to protect the Huntington neighborhood — including Fenwick Drive and Arlington Terrace, the two residential streets hardest hit last month. But the estimated cost, from $2.4 million to $3.2 million, or more than $10 million in today’s dollars, was considered too steep.

A 1982 study proposed a concrete floodwall to contain waters rising to 14.8 ft. The cost was estimated at $3.5 million, or about $6.3 million today.

Some residents wonder if other, more prosperous, areas of the county — such as McLean or Reston — would be left so vulnerable for so long. County spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said there is “a shared responsibility” for the inaction, pointing to voters’ rejection of proposed bond issues for storm drainage in 1978 and 1990.

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