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Last 2011 levee deal for Corps of Engineers

Feb. 3, 2013 - 01:42PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 3, 2013 - 01:42PM  |  
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. More than $180 million of repairs to Missouri River levees battered by the historic 2011 flooding are beginning to wind down, but critics are complaining the work took too long.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently awarded its final levee repair contract, worth $31,000, and a contractor has started work on the Overton-Wooldridge Levee District No. 1 in central Missouri's Cooper and Moniteau counties. Officials anticipate that repairs to it and other levees along the 2,341-mile river will wrap up this spring.

Missouri River levees sustained heavy damage in summer 2011 after the corps began releasing massive amounts of water from upstream reservoirs that had been filled with melting snow and heavy rains. The onslaught lasted for more than 100 days, flooding farmland in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

"The corps has worked in the past to shorten the lengthy levee repair process, but it still takes far too long," Tom Waters, chairman of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association, said in an email. "The Corps of Engineers' levee repair process is a very long affair with too many steps, and too many delays."

Those steps include environmental and engineering studies. Diana McCoy, a corps spokeswoman, said the agency is constantly reviewing the process for making repairs and currently rewriting the regulation that govern them.

Since the floodwaters receded, the corps has been making fully funded fixes to federally operated levees and covering 80 percent of the cost of repairs to some nonfederal levees, like the one that protects more than 3,000 acres of agricultural land in Cooper and Moniteau counties. Rushing waters scoured and eroded a 7,200-foot stretch of that levee and destroyed sod on it.

For nonfederal levees to benefit from the federal flood repair help, they must participate in a program that requires routine inspections.

Nationally, the corps spent the bulk of the levee repair money, $160 million, in the upper section of the Missouri River. Much of that money went to repair federally operated levees.

An additional $45 million was allocated to fix mostly nonfederal levees in an area spanning from Rulo, Neb., to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers in the St. Louis area. Of 30 contracts awarded on that stretch of the river, 18 are complete and 11 require only minor seeding and mulching.

Because the repairs in the lower section of the river are costing less than half of what was budgeted, the corps has returned $12 million in federal funding so far. McCoy, the corps spokeswoman, said the agency was compiling damage estimates while the water was still receding, which contributed to the initial repair estimates being off.

For people who live and farm behind the last levees to be fixed, the big concern is that they won't be fully protected from flooding until grass takes root on the earthen berms. That could easily take until summer, said Waters, of the Missouri Levee and Drainage District Association.

"For those levees, it will have been nearly two years since the flood damaged the levee," Waters said. "There has to be a better way to make emergency levee repairs in a more timely manner."

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