Smith Canal: An ’emergency’ project?

Flood control officials have been saying that it could take seven years to design, permit and construct that $36 million flood gate at the mouth of Smith Canal.

Residents indicated earlier this month that they’re willing to pay for it. And yet, the federal government is poised to begin jacking up flood insurance rates.

That creates a problem. Most homeowners, after all, will still be required to buy insurance until the gate is finished.

Combined with the yearly assessment to pay for the gate, more expensive flood insurance could be a serious tipping point for economically stressed households.

At today’s county Advisory Water Commission meeting, Stockton attorney Dante Nomellini suggested the gate be treated as an “emergency” project.

“I think an atmosphere of urgency” is needed, he said.

Commissioner Will Price agreed. “Can we speed this up?” he asked. “Otherwise we’re going to have a tragedy in that area.”

Roger Churchwell, with the San Joaquin Area Flood Control Agency, said the intention is to ask FEMA to hold off on rate increases, since Smith Canal residents have already agreed to pay for infrastructure to correct the perceived flood threat once and for all.

“I like the idea of describing this as an ’emergency’ project,” he said.

He also said that the seven-year estimate is conservative. They’ll try to speed it up.

But, Churchwell cautioned, the need to acquire permits from agencies like the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, to name just one, may well bog the project down — whether it’s described as an “emergency” or not.

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