Of the four bond questions facing Fairfax County voters next Tuesday, none has sparked more emotion than the one involving a $30 million stormwater bond to build a levee and pumping station to protect the flood-prone Huntington community.
The neighborhood has been hit by floods several times in the last 10 years, including a scare from Hurricane Sandy that resulted in 125 homes in Huntington being evacuated last Monday.
As for next weekís bond vote, the central sticking point is whether taxpayer money should be used to protect homeowners who purchased properties within a natural flood plain.
Some argue the storm wall should be paid for by the property owners and their respective homeowner associations. Others, claiming roadwork on the Capital Beltway and Woodrow Wilson Bridge have contributed to flooding problems, believe the state should pick up some of the costs.
Unfortunately, itís never that simple.
Although the area in and around Huntington has had flooding issues for decades, a 2006 study by the Army Corps of Engineers confirmed that the size and scope of the problem has grown in recent years. Upstream development throughout the Cameron Run watershed, much of it in Fairfax County, has contributed to the problem. There are 180 homes at risk in Huntingtonís FEMA-designated flood plain, and nearly 90 percent of them have sustained serious water damage since 2006. Itís important to note that all of the homes were built in the 1940s and 1950s, long before current flood-plain rules existed.
Simply telling Huntingtonís homeowners that ďitís your problemĒ isnít good practice on multiple levels.
One of those is economic. Huntington residents have long argued that Fairfax County uses more resources responding to flooding events in their neighborhood than it would on a permanent fix.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report reached a similar conclusion, saying that erecting a 2,865 foot levee and pump station along Cameron Run is the cheapest solution to address the issue. Simple math seems to back that up. More than $10 million was spent on recovery efforts from floods in 2006 and 2011. Two or three more weather events would certainly exceed the cost of a levee, and those costs would likely trickle down to taxpayers in some form or fashion.
This isnít just about protecting a couple hundred families. Nearly 800 nearby homes would also see their property values rise with the construction of a new wall, meaning more taxes being collected by Fairfax County and the prospect of higher end development around Huntington. Ignoring the problem simply translates to more county expenses during floods, a significant drop in property taxes and less attractive development options.
The other issue is one of conscience. The vast majority of Huntington residents were handed a problem that wasnít of their making and itís in all of our best interests to give them a hand.
Next year, it could be another neighborhood in Fairfax County.