City of Merced weighing possible hazards

Mitigation plan will be submitted to FEMA in order to fund improvement projects.

abutt@mercedsunstar.comMarch 7, 2012 

City of Merced residents can show up Friday at the Civic Center to voice concerns on any natural or man-made hazards they think they might face.

The city is drafting a hazard mitigation plan, along with help from its disaster council. The plan focuses on identifying likely hazards that would affect the city -- extreme temperatures, hazardous materials, fire, fog -- and ranks the hazards.

Then the plan identifies and prioritizes the recommended mitigation measures to reduce those impacts, said Bill King, principal planner for the city.

Once the draft is finished late this year, it will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will make sure the content of the plan is consistent, King said. "Once you have a plan, you can apply for projects," he said.

For example, the city experiences flooding from time to time. To reduce the impacts to residents and property, the plan would help make way for improvement projects, according to King. One possible project could be constructing detention basins, or structures that temporarily hold water back from flowing downstream. That would help slow flooding in Black Rascal Creek or other creeks.

Flooding is the city's largest hazard, he said.

In 2009, the city received $500,000, by way of Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, for hazard mitigation from FEMA. The city has used $150,000 to put the plan together, while the rest will be earmarked for potential hazard mitigation projects the city may pursue in the future.

The disaster council, appointed by the city manager, serves as a transition between the city and incorporating the community when it comes to the hazard mitigation plan, according to Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin. McLaughlin is deputy director of emergency services on the council, and City Manager John Bramble is the director. The 14-member group includes city employees and officials from the Merced Irrigation District, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and others.

King said portions of the plan will be posted on the city of Merced's website for public comment. However, the city plans to hold more formal public outreach workshops sometime this year.

"Public involvement is a key component of it," McLaughlin said.

The city disaster council meets 3 p.m. Friday in the Sam Pipes Room at the Civic Center.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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