As Napa Mayor Jill Techel put it, the Napa River and Napa Creek flood project has afforded citizens and officials many opportunities to celebrate over the years, and Monday afternoon offered another chance.

Techel gathered in downtown Napa with residents, city and county staff, and other local and federal officials Monday to celebrate the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allocating $16.6 million in federal funding to construct the vital flood bypass channel downtown. The allocation was announced in June.

Every time we get together its a milestone, Techel said in a gathering behind Coles Chop House on Main Street. It means theres something worth celebrating. Were going to celebrate the bypass today.

The bypass project will divert half of the flood waters that would flow into the Oxbow area through a shortcut at the Oxbow Public Market, across McKinstry Street and under the Napa Valley Wine Trains tracks where it will reconnect with the river channel at its juncture with Napa Creek.

Techel lauded the project as a necessary protection for downtown Napa, and one that will spur further economic investment and development in downtown.

This going to have on the city of Napa probably the biggest impact, Techel said. Its going to change the look of downtown. Its going to be a transformative project.

Army Corps Lt. Col. Brad Tande, the chief contracting officer, said the corps wants to award the contract for construction in September and to start work in December.

Were very thrilled to begin this project, Tande said. We think its awesome. Its all starting to come together.

The bypass and the recently completed flood work on Napa Creek will mean residents and business owners along the waterways wont have to have sleepless nights when the heavy rains fall in the fall and winter, Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.

Mostly in Napa we love rain, Wagenknecht said. Grapes need water. It can be just one big storm. You can go to sleep and wake up flooded.

Wagenknecht called the bypass the final, last big piece of the flood project.

Its been a long process, Wagenknecht said. Today it is a reality.

Seminary Street resident Linda Kerr helped form In Harms Way, a group of residents who organized after the floods of 2005 and 2006. Speaking Monday, she said she hopes the frantic flood-defense preparations in the run-up to a big storm are a thing of the past.

Heavy rains last December, she noted, did not cause flooding on Napa Creek because of the work of the flood project.

I can attest to the frequent flash floods, Kerr said. One flood after another tore through the neighborhood. The flash-flood nature of the creek left little, if any, time to prepare.

Kerr said Monday should be a time to celebrate, but also noted that the works not finished.

We are thrilled to celebrate completion, Kerr said of the Napa Creek portion of the project. We have a lot to be thankful for, but theres still more work to be done.

Techel recounted how she heard of the bypass receiving the $16.6 million in funding a phone call from Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) while she was at a conference for U.S. mayors, which went to her voicemail. Thompson urged her to call back, and delivered the good news.

Thompson said he recognizes evidence of the flood projects benefits in the investment and development thats occurred in downtown Napa.

You can feel the benefit, Thompson said. Downtown Napa is absolutely on fire. Were a better community as a result of this.

Napa County Supervisor Bill Dodd thanked the Army Corps for its support; the project is jointly funded with federal and local dollars. The Napa flood project got $100 million in federal stimulus money in 2009 for elevating railroad tracks and for the Napa Creek flood work.

Weve had a great relationship over time, Dodd said. Were grateful for the recognition this project, along with the funding, has gotten to date.

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