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Truckee River Flood Project: you're already paying and may pay more

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The completion of the new Virginia Street Bridge is considered part of a larger solution aimed at addressing flooding along the Truckee River. The bridge does not have columns that extend from the bottom of the bridge into the water. The older bridge caught debris and became a dam when the river was running high.

You may not know it but you're already paying a small percentage in sales tax to fund the Truckee River Flood Project.

In the late 1990's, the Washoe County voters approved a 1/4 cent sales tax. The City of Reno and the County split that tax giving 1/8th to the City to lower the downtown train tracks. The other 1/8th percent went towards funding the flood project and building a regional public safety training center as well as an emergency dispatch center. Those public safety facilities and Reno's downtown train trench have been built. So, where is the flood project today? The short answer is there is still a lot more work to be done.

Jay Aldean is the executive director for the Truckee River Flood Management Authority. He said the sales tax generates roughly $5,000,000 a year in revenue for the project but he added, "That's netted, as we currently owe about $2.5 million in bond payments annually."

The last major flood was in 2005. The one before that, in 1997 was even worse. The flood plan is aimed at addressing the problem. In part, it calls for replacing at minimum three more downtown Reno bridges at Center, Sierra and Lake streets. It would also remove the traffic bridge at Booth Street and turn the bridge into a bicycle/pedestrian bridge.

The project would also rework the levy along Riverside Drive. Aldean said, "Basically west of the Lear Theater, all that has to be reworked to prevent water from going in down 1st Street and flooding the whole downtown."

Downstream in Sparks, the 1997 flood did a lot of damage to the industrial park near the river.

Aldean said work has been completed offering flood protection to the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, new Walmart and Grand Sierra Resort. However, a lot of work still remains. Aldean said, "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers basically got tired of us. So what they did is offer us a 50-year plan and said take it or leave it, so I said in that case, we'll take it."

Working through Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the project was able to request an "upgrade," to a 100-year protection plan as long it met the Corps criteria. Now, negotiations are underway to further nail an agreement with the Corps down.

There is also an issue of funding. Aldean said there may be more discussion over imposing a fee to those who would directly benefit from the flood project. Also, in addition to the fee, Aldean said there needs to be discussion on an alternative tax. He said, "It will eventually go to the public in 2018 and hopefully the public will pay for it or not. That will be the voters' choice as no one is trying to cram this down anyone's throat." He added, "Another way to look at this is you are looking at nearly $400,000,000 for the project in 1997 and that flood cost nearly $600,000,000 in damages so figure that one out."

The estimated $25,000,000 Virginia Street Bridge is already paid for as it was funded through federal, state and flood project dollars. The bridge was identified as a TRAction Project meaning it was a priority and funding was identified.

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The Truckee River Flood Management Project is a joint effort among the cities of Reno and Sparks, Washoe County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and numerous other stakeholders to reduce the devastating impacts of flooding in the Truckee Meadows, Nevada.

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