$8.9 million in federal funding meant to dam up city’s flooding problem

Long Beach’s infrastructure budget will be afloat with $8.9 million in federal dollars to improve storm drains, pumps and other flood control measures, it was announced today by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The grant, used in conjunction with $2.2 million in city funds, is intended to better protect businesses and residences from floods such as those caused by winter storms in 2017 which resulted in power outages and property damage.

“We want to make sure that when your city replaces these very important infrastructure things that they are bigger and better and can withstand the kind of punishment they receive through Mother Nature over the years, so you can spring back much faster next time,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fleming said Thursday during a press conference at the Port of Long Beach’s downtown headquarters.

Fleming said the improvements are desperately needed “to protect this great city’s economy” from future natural disasters. He explained that the EDA grant, to be spent in areas close to Tax Cuts and Job Act Opportunity Zones, is designed to help communities impacted by natural disasters.

City Engineer Alvin Papa said Long Beach’s storm drain infrastructure consists of 23 pump stations and about 150 miles of storm drains, with much of that system needing repair to prevent the type of damage caused during the severe 2017 floods.

“A lot of that storm drain system that the city owns is aged. It’s old. And it’s undersized. It needs to be upgraded,” Papa said.

Papa and his team logged damage reports and calls for service from previous floods and prioritized roughly a dozen projects that were in most critical need, including the replacement of deficient pump stations and some undersized piping. Battery backup systems also are being put in place at pump stations where there is no emergency electrical source.

“A lot of our pump stations are about four to five decades old and they are in disrepair… They have been repaired multiple times to the point where we cannot repair them anymore. We’ve stretched the life as far as we could,” he said.

“These important disaster improvements will help us overcome some of these longstanding challenges that we’ve had, and help ensure that in the future, private developers and businesses are encouraged to invest in Long Beach and feel safe that their investments here in the city will stand the test of time,” he said.

Another critical part of the project includes work on Lew Davis Street, where Frontier Communications has a facility. The city plans to spend about $2.2 million of the $11 million Flood Resiliency Improvement Project budget there to protect the three subterranean levels that house electrical, cable and communications technology.

“If those were to flood, it would be a major catastrophe in the city,” Papa said, explaining that emergency dispatches are processed through that hub, in addition to credit card and ATM transactions.

“They (Frontier, formerly Verizon) invested in a floodgate, but even with the floodgate, their first floor flooded in 2017. They reached out to the city and urged us to do something about it, and it became one of our No. 1 priorities.”

Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler emphasized the critical need to protect Lew Davis Street.

“These infrastructure projects are about commerce. They are about jobs. In fact, they impact the entire region,” he said. “The economy runs on this infrastructure, especially the information technology, and to imagine that our communications infrastructure has three subterranean levels that are flooding on an annual basis, this is a perfect example of how government and private sector can partner to reinforce that infrastructure to keep those services running.”

The Flood Resiliency Improvement Project is expected to be complete by spring 2023.

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