By JIMMY ESPY
The United States Department of Agriculture has committed $1.125 million to pay for engineering work on a new system of flood control measures at Trion. The federal money for planning is a prelude to what is likely to become a $10 million to $13 million project that could include anti-flooding measures on both the north and south sides of the Chattooga River between the dam above Mount Vernon Mills and the treatment plant.
Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters said planners will look at ways to protect Mount Vernon Mills and private property.
“They’ll be looking at improving the levee that’s there now, new levees, walls and mitigation,” said Winters.
Winters said the USDA signed a contract with Georgia’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission to administer the federal funds. Winters said the funding for the study and the future construction would not require any local matching funds.
“There will be a 12 to 18 month planning phase but some work like tree clearing and debris removal could start before the planning is completed,” Winters said. “They (the engineers) will be able to give us some guidance on what we can do that won’t interfere with the overall plan.”
Winters said state and national officials recognized the precarious situation in Trion, where Mount Vernon Mills – one of the largest employers in the region — has been shut down at times in the past because of flooding.
The Trion project was one of only 48 multi-year projects approved by the USDA. It is the only one in Georgia.
“Protecting lives and property and improving natural resources within our nation’s watersheds are critical,” said Leonard Jordan, acting chief of the National Resource Conservation Service, an agency of the USDA.
“Watersheds are nature’s natural boundaries, Jordan added. “NRCS has made much progress in reducing damages caused by flooding, sedimentation and erosion in watersheds nationwide because of our proactive approach to program implementation once we obtain congressional funding.”
Gov. Nathan Deal visited Trion in 2016 to look at the situation along the river. At the time local officials were looking to the state for the needed funding. Winters said Deal suggested looking at options for federal funding.
Winters said that avenue proved successful, thanks in part to the efforts of several state and federal officials, including former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who now serves as the Secretary of Agriculture in the Trump Administration.
“We’ve had a lot of help on this,” said Winters. “State Sen. Jeff Mullis has worked hard on it and Gov. Deal has been a big help. They recognize how important this project is both to Mount Vernon Mills and to the Town of Trion.”