Missouri levee owners beg Army Corps for help

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The landowners who maintain a damaged northwest Missouri levee are asking the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to reconsider kicking them out of a program that helps make repairs after flooding.

The Forest City Levee District Levee learned in a letter dated May 23 that it had failed an inspection and would no longer qualify for federal help. A week later, the corps began releasing massive amounts of water from upstream dams filled with record runoff from rain and winter snows.

Months of sandbagging kept waters from flowing over the top of the levee. But when the water subsidized, landowners found a trench near the levee's base. The hole is 20- to 30-feet deep, more than a quarter-mile long and more than 100 yards wide, said Lanny Meng, secretary treasurer of the Forest City Levee District.

An engineer hired to conduct a preliminary damage assessment told the levee district it would cost about $4 million to make the needed repairs. Meng said the district, which taxes landowners to pay for the levee's upkeep, is essentially broke.

The district sent a letter to the corps earlier this month appealing its dismissal from the program. The corps plans to review the request next week, said Jud Kneuvean, emergency management chief for the corps' Kansas City district.

"They have taken steps since to try to come back into the program," Kneuvean said. "They've submitted what we call a system-wide improvement plan. We are going to be reviewing that. They've also asked us to reconsider the determination of ineligibility and to see if we would allow them back into the program. If we were to do that, it would make this flood event and the damages associated with it eligible."

Meng said the levee is fragile and can't handle another deluge. It protects about 300 people and 8,000 acres, a grain elevator and the main line of the Burlington-Northern Railroad.

"We are just overwhelmed," he said.

Both sides agree that one of the main problems that led to the district's dismissal from the program is that a pipe used to pump water from the protected side of the levee back into the river ran directly through the levee. Such drainage pipes generally are supposed to go over the top of the levee. Meng said it was cheaper to pump water through the levee instead of over it.

But Kneuvean said there could be erosion of the levee embankment if something within the system failed while water was being pumped. He said the district had been warned not to pump water through the levee but kept doing it.

"This is a tough one," Kneuvean said. "It's pretty rare that a federal levee system is deemed ineligible for assistance by the corps and that is not taken lightly."

Meng said the pipe's placement wouldn't have been such a problem in the past. But things changed after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent establishment of the National Levee Safety Program.

"We have really gotten more tough in our enforcement," Kneuvean said.

Meng said the problem boils down to a lack of money to upgrade the district's levee, which dates back to the 1950s.

"They want it brought up to 2011 standards in a short period of time with no help," he said.

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