Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 3, 2013

A near tragedy — Accident reinforces need for action

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— For several years now this newspaper has been warning of the potential dangers of chronic flooding along Stafford Drive in Princeton, and we have been asking why the state or federal government has failed to step up and help the city correct this problem before someone gets seriously hurt.

A simple question has been posed repeatedly: Is the state of West Virginia, and the federal government for that matter, waiting for someone to get hurt or seriously injured before funding assistance is provided to help correct this chronic flooding?

We can now report that such a tragedy was narrowly averted last week when an SUV carrying a woman and a child was submerged under water in Princeton near the Grant’s Supermarket at the Athens Crossroads. Emergency crews — and a concerned passersby — were miraculously able to rescue the child and woman from the vehicle, which had floated 150 yards until it became stuck at a bridge at the intersection. A front-page photograph in this newspaper showed a wrecker attempting to pull the submerged vehicle from the river. Photographs also appeared in our online edition showing vehicles attempting once again to navigate through dangerously high flood waters on Stafford Drive.

Heavy rain at the time had prompted flooding at locations across the region, including the flood-prone Stafford Drive corridor. No, the accident in question didn’t happen on Stafford Drive — occurring instead a short distance down the road. And, yes, police are still investigating what caused the SUV to enter the water. However, heavy rain had swollen the creek running alongside the Grant’s Supermarket parking lot at the Athens Crossroads when the SUV suddenly went into the water.

Tragedy was narrowly averted this time. But will we be so lucky the next time a vehicle attempts to cross a flooded section of Stafford Drive? Is Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin listening? Is U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., reading this? Is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., taking note?

 After five grant applications for emergency funding assistance were rejected, the Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation stepped up and agreed to award the city $250,000. That’s half of the estimated $500,000 needed to complete the emergency flood control project. So now the only thing the city is lacking is matching funds to complete this project.

Here is something to consider. If Rick Boucher, a former Democratic U.S. congressman, could steer more than $100 million into Southwest Virginia to relocate an entire town across a flood-prone river in rural Buchanan County, Va., can the state of West Virginia, or our congressional delegation in Washington, not come up with $250,000 in matching funds to complete a critical flood-proofing project for Princeton?

Princeton Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson says City Manager Elke Doom and David Cole, executive director of the Region I Planning and Development District, traveled to Charleston last week to speak with Kelly Workman, an official with the state Small Cities Block Grant program.

Wilson added that she and Doom plan to see District 10 Division of Highways Manager Tom Camden this week to discuss funding.

Why are city officials still having to ask the state for help? What is Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin waiting on — another vehicle to be submerged under water? Why is Rahall, Manchin and U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., not working with the state to find solutions to this flooding crisis?

A tragedy was miraculously averted last week. Will we be so lucky next time?