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Nebraska City News-Press - Nebraska City, NE
  • Army Corps of Engineers deems some Fremont County levees “unacceptable”

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  • In a letter signed by Joel R. Cross, Colonel, Corps of Engineers District Commander, sent to Senator Grassley and copied to various emergency management departments, it was announced that the L-594-575 Flood Risk Reduction Project (FFRP) was given an Overall System Rating of “Unacceptable.”
    This designation includes levees in the Benton Washington Segment, the Pleasant Valley Segment, and the Waubonsie DD Segment, all in Fremont County.   These levees could be described as the levee(s) along the Missouri River from Plum Creek to Waubonsie Creek, including two tie-backs up those creeks.
    The letter making the announcement is fairly brief and says only that “Maintenance deficiencies identified in the inspection may prevent the FFRP from performing as designed and present an increased risk to the public.”
    Fremont County Emergency Management Director Mike Crecelius said that due to that brevity and lack of direction, a meeting would held soon with Army Corps of Engineers representatives, Supervisors, and Levee Sponsors to determine what needs to be done to get these levees back on the “Acceptable” list.
    Kim Thomas, Chief of the Readiness Branch in the Omaha District of the Army Corps of Engineers stated that her information showed that the inspections of culverts, discharge pipes, and relief wells that is supposed to be performed every five years had not been performed and these levees were now at the six year mark since their last inspection.  
    Thomas said that the levee sponsors need to do the inspections and provide photo/video documentation and a written report showing that the levees were in proper working order to be placed back in acceptable status.
    Thomas said that while the levees were in “unacceptable” status they were not eligible for any rehabilitation assistance if there were any damage to the levees.  She did say, though, that the sponsors could also send a Letter of Intent and get approval to begin system wide improvement to remain active until such time as the required inspections could be completed and approved.
    Ken Howery, official of the Pleasant Valley and Waubonsie Drainage Districts said that they were unsure what all the Army Corps of Engineers was after, and said that they had a meeting scheduled in the Army Corps of Engineers offices in Omaha for July 23 to get that information.
    Howery said that potential issues included some trees here and there, delayed inspections, and wells that hadn’t yet been pumped and checked.  He was hopeful that the meeting with the Corps would tell the drainage district officials exactly what they needed to do, and what kind of timeline they had to work within.
    Howery pointed out that this designation affects levees above and below those listed in the letter, too.  He said that the designation takes away the Corps’ responsibility for the levees and any financial help from the Corps for a problem with those levees.
    Page 2 of 2 - Howery said that right now they just didn’t have any money to do anything with the levees, as it had all been spent on repairing them.  When asked where the money would come from if further work had to be done to get back into acceptable status, Howery said he didn’t know, but that it would probably boil down to more taxes on landowners.
    Benton Washington Drainage District official, Pat Sheldon, was optimistic that any issues could be straightened out quickly, and assured, “it’s nothing anyone needs to get worried about.  We’re going to find out what needs to be done Wednesday and we’ll take care of it.”  Sheldon thought that some trees near the area where L-575 and L-594 hook together could be an issue, but wasn’t sure.  He did say that inspections had been done as needed, and it might just be a paperwork problem.  
    Sheldon said that there were new standards and regulations imposed by the Corps for levees starting around 2013, but it was a slow process implementing them, and it could be something simple that they just needed to learn about, but for now “we’re just as much in the dark as everyone else, regarding what needs fixed.”  He said the Army Corps of Engineers had been very helpful in agreeing to meet with the drainage district officials right away to take care of the issues and clear any confusion, and he expected that the problem would be resolved quickly.
    Watch for a follow-up regarding the outcome of the Wednesday meeting.

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