Capitol Alert

Oroville, other flood-safety projects would be fast-tracked under new bill

Work to strengthen Oroville Dam, shore up downstream levees and other types of flood-prevention projects would be eligible for fast-tracked state approval under new California legislation lawmakers will consider when they return from summer recess next month.

The measure by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, whose district suffered heavy flood damage in February, would require state agencies to speed up permit processing and approval for certain types of flood-control projects.

Current law already allows authorities to exempt or delay permit requirements during emergencies. Yet other high-priority projects still have to go through the normal permitting process. That leads to delays.

Beall’s bill would make several categories of projects “to maintain human life safety” eligible for expedited permitting and approval. Those would be:

▪  Oroville Dam and work to reduce the downstream flood risk. Workers already are racing to rebuild the dam’s gutted spillway.

▪ Projects in flood-risk watersheds that have experienced flooding within the last 10 years that caused more than $50 million in damage.

▪ Dams at risk from earthquakes. Some of those dams are near major population centers.

▪ Dams that are in serious disrepair and slated to be replaced.

▪ High-risk tidal flood zones of “national economic importance.” A combination of high tides and major storms threatens Silicon Valley.

Under the bill, a state agency would have 30 days to consider a request for an expedited permit. If an expedited process is granted, the agency would have another 60 days to approve or deny the permit.

The bill emerged late last week as lawmakers left town for their summer recess and could be voted on after they return Aug. 21 for a final month of legislating. Beall’s office, though, said the measure might roll into 2018, the second half of the two-year session. The current version of the bill would take effect immediately, requiring a two-thirds vote.

Earlier this year, rain-swollen Coyote Creek in San Jose overflowed its banks and deluged nearby neighborhoods, displacing hundreds of people and causing an estimated $100 million in damage. Local officials have proposed flood-control improvements in the area.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, whose district includes Oroville Dam, said he has talked to Beall about the legislation and is reviewing the latest amendments. He likes its intent, he said.

“We know there are structural deficiencies with the levees,” said Nielsen, who unsuccessfully tried to include $100 million in the current budget to strengthen levees. “There absolutely always are permitting challenges.”

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