U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, PA-11, today joined in the announcement of a $15 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration that will allow for the construction of flood protection to preserve approximately 900 jobs in Bloomsburg. The flood walls and other apparatus will address flooding problems suffered by Autoneum (formerly Rieter Automotive North America) and Windsor Foods, two of Columbia County's largest employers. Both of these manufacturers endure damaging flooding when the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek overflow their banks.
The announcement was made on Autoneum's factory floor by Matt Erskine (Deputy Assistant Secretary of the EDA), Rep. Barletta, representatives of Governor Corbett and of Senators Toomey and Casey, Bloomsburg Mayor Daniel Knorr, Columbia County Commission Chairman Chris Young and Columbia County Commissioners Rich Ridgeway and David Kovach.
"In today's economic climate, it is important that we protect every single job we can, so this $15 million grant comes at the perfect time," Rep. Barletta said. "We have to take whatever steps we can to protect these jobs and allow these companies to grow, expand, and hire even more workers. This project will help provide the protection these companies need to stay in Columbia County for the long term."
Bloomsburg residents have expressed a need for flood protection since Hurricane Agnes in 1972, and in many cases, years before that. According to a 2005 study commissioned by United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), average annual urban damages from flooding in Bloomsburg exceed $4.5 million. Floods disrupt local businesses, educational centers, law enforcement agencies, emergency responders, and utility providers. Floods compromise critical infrastructure of the town, including its drinking water, sewer services, road networks, and overall transportation systems.
"Simply put, flooding of the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek creates a clear and present danger for the residents and businesses of the Town of Bloomsburg, along with its adjacent communities," Rep. Barletta said. "There is a persistent, direct threat to lives and to commercial, public and private property."
On June 8, 2011, Congressman Barletta and Senator Casey wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supporting the Bloomsburg Flood Risk Management Project in the FY11 Work Plan and President's budget for FY12.
The Corps' FY11 work plan was released on May 17, 2011, and did not include funding for the Bloomsburg project. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bloomsburg project's benefit to cost ratio was deemed too low.
In November 2011, Rep. Barletta invited Speaker Boehner to tour the Bloomsburg flood damage.
Also in 2011, Rep. Barletta invited Rep. John Mica to Bloomsburg, who was at the time Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who oversaw the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In October 2012, Rep. Barletta and Senators Casey and Toomey sent a support letter to the Economic Development Administration on behalf of Columbia County's application. Rep. Barletta expressed strong support for Columbia County's application and requested that the Bloomsburg Flood Resilience Project receive full and fair consideration.
On November 15,2012, the PA Commonwealth Finance Authority approved a grant of $11.8 million to help fund the flood protection systems for Autoneum and Windsor Foods. It was critical for the project to receive this state funding as well as the federal funding.
This project is funded through the FY 2012 Disaster Relief Opportunity administered through the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Along with the $15 million EDA grant and the $11.8 million from Pennsylvania, Columbia County will contribute $3.2 million toward the $30 million cost of the entire project.