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Severe flooding risk awaits WCC Master Plan

A little more than three months ago, Washtenaw County experienced severe flooding following an extraordinarily heavy rainstorm. In that event, property owners here sustained more than $3M in damage. This kind of flooding is becoming more common and will continue to cause extensive damage in the coming decades. Knowing a property’s flood risk is essential to avoiding, mitigating or planning for damage.

The WCC Master Plan Update calls for the construction of a hotel and/or conference center, as well as “retail outlots” in the TI parking lot. When you look at the flood risk for the proposed buildings however, the Master Plan spells disaster.

FEMA has zoned the campus as AE, which puts portions of the property at a severe risk for flooding. FEMA characterizes the property’s risk as 7 out of 10.

According to FEMA, two of the three proposed locations for the hotel and the proposed “retail outlot” in the TI parking lot are among those areas on campus most likely to experience severe flooding within the next 15-30 years. FEMA has also identified severe flood risks for the circular drive, the athletic fields, the area bordering the Health and Fitness Center, the former Children’s Center, the parking structure, and portions of the LA building.

The FEMA data model predicts a 43% chance that at least 6″ of floodwaters will impact these areas at least once in the next 20 years.

Severe flooding risk should halt unnecessary construction

This is quite possibly the best argument for NOT building a hotel and/or convention center anywhere on WCC’s campus. It is critical to preserve the areas of the campus at the lowest risk of flooding for buildings that have mission-centric value. We cannot afford to place expensive, hard-to-maintain buildings on at-risk areas of the campus. This simply saddles the taxpayers with overwhelming financial risk.

Flooding is a special kind of hazard. Properties are not insurable against flood damage except through FEMA. It is unfair to expect Washtenaw County taxpayers to bear the full cost of repairing severe flood damage throughout WCC’s campus. After all, a major flood event is likely to impact many areas of the campus simultaneously. A severe flood on the south side of campus could compromise LA, the FEB and destabilize the parking structure, for example. Flooding in LA could also flood the tunnels underneath the building. Additionally, the LA expansion includes a large underground powerhouse replete with boilers that will not tolerate being flooded. Aside from damaging critical campus power and communications infrastructure, flooding here would distribute the damage to the SC, TI and OE Buildings.

We also cannot afford to forfeit valuable “dry” space for non-critical projects. Every inch of WCC’s property must be reserved for its academic mission. Pursuing this Master Plan in search of pennies on the dollar puts Washtenaw County taxpayers at unnecessary risk.

Photo Credit: Kick Stock , via Flickr