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County shifts funds to prevent floods

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Take a deep breath: San Luis Obispo County needs a loan to pay the matching requirement for a grant to pay for a project to stop flooding in Oceano.

Officials from the County Public Works department even laughed that the funding scheme sounds like a shell game, but assured county supervisors on May 22 that it’s the best way to secure funding and complete a series of flood-mitigation projects on the Arroyo Grande Creek Channel.

The issue stems from devastating floods in Oceano in December 2010, after a heavy storm not only temporarily displaced residents, but also led to a massive sewage spill at the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District wastewater treatment facility. Since then, Public Works officials have scrambled to develop a sort of triage of flood-control projects, which include levee work, weed management in the creek, and other methods to prevent the Arroyo Grande Creek Channel from overtopping.

Public Works managed to secure funding through Proposition 1E Stormwater Flood Management Program grants ($2.8 million) and through Proposition 84 (another $2.2 million). However, the county also needs to provide $3 million in matching funds.

Some money already spent has helped county officials knock off a bit of the matching requirement, but they were still left with a $1.8 million shortfall. The plan going forward is twofold: Pursue a $3 million, 40-year loan from the U.S Department of Agriculture, or a $3 million grant from Cal EMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). But the HMGP grant has its own $1 million match requirement.

With approval from county supervisors, Public Works pulled $706,000 out of reserves to move forward with its projects and apply for the USDA loan and HMGP grant. Public Works Director Paavo Ogren said he believed the USDA would award the loan, but if not, the department has about $13.1 million in available reserve funds to complete the project.

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