FEMA to help pay for Pasco flood fixes

Pasco County Stormwater Management personnel pump water from a retention pond along Hawthorn Drive and Ironbark Drive in Port Richey to try reduce the overflow and street flooding in 2016. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $11.8 million to Pasco County for flood mitigation work. Times Staff (2016).
Pasco County Stormwater Management personnel pump water from a retention pond along Hawthorn Drive and Ironbark Drive in Port Richey to try reduce the overflow and street flooding in 2016. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded $11.8 million to Pasco County for flood mitigation work. Times Staff (2016).
Published February 6 2018
Updated February 7 2018

DADE CITY — Pasco’s planned flood-control fixes just got a little more affordable.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is awarding $11.8 million to Pasco County for flood mitigation in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, County Administrator Dan Biles announced Tuesday in a Pasco Commission meeting. The agency previously earmarked $6.8 million for flood fixes because of Hurricane Hermine a year earlier, bringing a total of $18.6 million to the county for storm drainage improvements.

The Hermine money is pegged for three projects, to control flooding at Zephyr Creek, Forest Hills in Holiday and an area just outside Port Richey. Projects funded with the Irma money are undetermined, but the final approval comes from FEMA.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey advocated for buying low-lying, flood-prone properties along the Anclote River in the Seven Springs area and turning them into a passive park.

But Kevin Guthrie, assistant county administrator for public safety, cautioned that strings attached to the FEMA money mean the county could never develop a parking lot there for public use. The county would be wiser to try to obtain dollars from a separate pot of federal money, known as Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery, for the neighborhood buy out, he said. Guthrie later said fair market value for the homes there is estimated at $6.8 million.

There is no shortage of storm drainage work from which to choose.

Pasco is seeking cooperative funding from the Southwest Florida Water Management District for 20 projects costing tens of millions of dollars. They are part of a larger list of 93 stormwater projects the county has identified and estimated could cost, on average, $1 million each.

The county attempted unsuccessfully to obtain legislative appropriations for the drainage work in 2017. Only two Pasco storm-water projects, totaling $962,000, made it into the state budget, and Gov. Rick Scott vetoed both.

The county increased its stormwater assessment from $57 to $95 per home last year to pay for culvert cleaning and repairs, and to cover engineering costs for the first 10 planned stormwater projects, mostly in west Pasco. Severe storms in 2015, followed by Hurricane Hermine and Irma in consecutive years, flooded several of west Pasco’s older neighborhoods, turning residential streets into rut-filled paths and damaging hundreds of homes.

Guthrie said the projects FEMA chooses to authorize will be based on a cost-benefit analysis.

"They want to save as many rooftops as they can,’’ he said.

PAST COVERAGE: Pasco okays higher stormwater fee.

Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen

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