Sunday, September 4, 2016
Napa County, reclamation district address grand jury flood report
Both the Napa River Reclamation District (NRRD) and Napa County Board of Supervisors are taking the hard edge off grand jury criticisms over south county flood protection, though they don’t deny that flood threats exist.
The area in question is Edgerly Island and Ingersol Tract about five miles south of the city of Napa. About 135 homes in a line for 1.5 miles along the east side of Milton Road depend on an aging levee for Napa River flood protection.
This is an area of Napa County where wetlands are more prominent than vineyards. But, though out of the spotlight, it caught the attention of the 2015-16 grand jury in an era when sea level rise is predicted.
“NRRD is not now performing, and has never performed, the essential levee control and maintenance responsibilities for which it was created,” the June 6 Napa County grand jury report said.
County taxpayers could be on the hook if a flood happens, the grand jury said. State and federal agencies might not pay for flood damages because local authorities failed to make sure that the NRRD was empowered and funded to take the necessary precautions.
The grand jury wants the Board of Supervisors to direct county counsel to write and make public an opinion on the potential liabilities of the county and NRRD. Its report said the NRRD’s county-assigned counsel refused to answer basic questions.
So is the NRRD failing to perform the levee maintenance responsibilities for which it was created in 1974, as the grand jury asserts?
In its recently issued response, the NRRD Board of Directors questioned the use of the word “responsibilities.” Sections of the levee are privately owned by each homeowner, except for about 50 feet that is owned by the NRRD.
“Without and until securing additional property rights, NRRD has no authority, let alone responsibility, to maintain those levees,” the response said.
The district receives only $20,000 to $25,000 annually that it could use to secure property rights and construct reclamation projects, the response said. It has worked on achievable goals, such as buying flood pumps and educating property owners on levee maintenance.
“Thanks in part to NRRD’s efforts and the work of many responsible members of our community that have improved their portion of the levee, the existing levees have kept the community dry for over three decades,” the response said.
But the district agreed that, if sea level rise and land subsidence predictions come true, the existing levee can’t protect Milton Road. The district’s latest effort involves trying to team up with the Napa Flood Control and Water Conservation District to do an engineering study looking at long-term flood protection needs, solutions and costs.
“The buy-in and support of our community on Milton Road over the years to come is vital” to addressing subsidence and sea level rise challenges, the response said.
And would Napa County taxpayers have to pay for Milton Road flood damages, as the grand jury fears?
Napa County has no legal authority to compel the NRRD to take action on levee maintenance, said a response approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors. The law indicates that the county cannot be held liable for the failure of private levees.
The county didn’t speculate whether state and federal agencies might balk at making flood damage money available. Instead, it called flood recovery funding “a very complicated subject which would depend on many factors,” including unknown factors.
The Board of Supervisors declined the grand jury’s request to direct county counsel to write and make public an opinion on the liabilities and responsibilities of the NRRD and the county, citing attorney-client privilege.
“It is not County Counsel’s role to provide legal advice to the public at large,” the response stated.
September 4, 2016
Napa Valley Register
By Barry Eberling