A $2.45 million Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant will help the town of South Boston achieve its goal of transforming the Riverdale part of town into “green space” to minimize damage caused by frequent flooding.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management on Tuesday announced its receipt of nearly $20 million in hazard mitigation assistance funds from FEMA for the town of South Boston along with four other Virginia localities: Chesterfield County, the city of Hopewell, the city of Roanoke and the town of Pound.

The VDEM administers the funds on behalf of FEMA.

“This grant will help us in a variety of ways to reduce the impact of frequent flooding in the Riverdale area on our businesses and on our citizens,” said South Boston assistant town manager Dennis Barker. “The mitigation plan and grant funding will help us create green spaces in Riverdale for residents to go to and enjoy the outdoors.”

The federal share of the $2.45 grant funding is $1,838,605, while the non-federal share of the grant is $612,868. The state contributes a share for all Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects.

The town of South Boston applied for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds with the goal of offering to buy out existing businesses in Riverdale, assisting those businesses find a place to relocate, and turning that part of town into green spaces, South Boston town manager Tom Raab explained, in a September 2020 discussion of the plan.

“The plan is to offer the businesses in Riverdale an opportunity to move,” Raab said. “There are some empty buildings down there, as well. We’ll have everything appraised and make an offer on those buildings.”

The Riverdale acquisition plan has been in the works for a long time. At its September 2020 meeting, South Boston Town Council adopted a multi-hazard mitigation plan, in accordance with the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000.

Raab explained at the time adoption of the hazard mitigation plan was necessary for the town to qualify for the federal grant funding for the Riverdale acquisition project. The town of South Boston coordinated with the Southside District Planning Commission to prepare the hazard mitigation plan, which identifies mitigation goals and actions to “reduce or eliminate long-term risk to people and property in the town of South Boston from the impacts of future hazards and disasters.”

“We had to have this plan done on a regional level in order to qualify for funding for the Riverdale mitigation project,” Raab said at the council meeting. “This plan needs to be done every five years.”

The month before the town’s hazard mitigation plan was adopted, Raab told council in a strategic planning session that the Riverdale area of town had already been zoned as the “Dan River District,” which limits the amount that business owners could invest in the area, helping the town move forward with its plans to transform the flood-prone zone into green space.

Riverdale is the gateway to South Boston from the south on U.S. Highway 501, and South Boston town administration and town council have been discussing ways to make that part of town more attractive to visitors while minimizing damage from frequent flooding of the Dan River.

The Dan River typically overflows its banks a couple of times a year, forcing businesses in the Riverdale area to temporarily shutter their doors, move their merchandise to higher ground and undertake an extensive cleaning process before reopening, once the flood waters have receded.

Along with mitigating flood damage in the Riverdale area, the town also is working on plans to construct a boat landing, Greene’s Crossing on the Dan River. Raab said in August he is hopeful the Huell Matthews Highway boat landing will be ready for water recreation enthusiasts to enjoy in the spring of next year. Funding for the boat-landing project is from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Recreational Trails Program (RTP), administered through the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Up to this point, Raab said he does not believe the town of South Boston has maximized use of its waterways as outlets for recreation. In the future, the town manager said he envisions the boat landing being an avenue for various types of river recreation – kayaking, canoeing, tubing and fishing.

At strategic planning sessions in the past year, town council has discussed other potential improvements to Riverdale, including more lighting and wider sidewalks for pedestrians traveling in the area.

“The boat landing will spruce up the Riverdale area,” Raab commented. “We’re going to spruce up the bridge and install some lighting down there, as well.”

Barker added increasing opportunities for recreation in the Riverdale area is part of the town of South Boston’s overall plans for growth and economic development.

“We want to be able to attract more businesses and citizens to the town,” Barker offered. “It is all part of the town’s infrastructure, and recreational activity is definitely a tie in.”

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.

Miranda Baines is a staff writer for The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at mbaines@gazettevirginian.com.