Bond issue to address Milton-Freewater levees

The $2.8 million measure would cost the owner of a $100,000 home $62 a year.

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MILTON-FREEWATER -- A bond issue to fund repairs to levees protecting the city is in the pipeline.

The Milton-Freewater Water Control Board on Tuesday approved an ordinance to have a $2.8 million bond placed on the Nov. 2 general election ballot. The measure will be drawn up by the board's bond counsel and should be delivered to the Umatilla County Clerk's Office by Friday, said Vicki Lee, water board secretary-treasurer.

The total bond amount will be $2,854,900 to be paid over 21 years, Lee said. If approved by voters in the water control district, the cost to property owners would be 62 cents per $1,000 of assessed value or $62 per year for a $100,000 home.

Bond issues to pay for repairs were put up for a vote in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but all of them failed.

The board's action comes on the heels of an Oregon Solutions team meeting last week at which representatives from at least 17 agencies pledged to continue work to seek solutions to fixing the levees.

Due to problems ranging from excess vegetation to erosion, the levee system has been classified as "unacceptable" by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which means the system is ineligible for federal rehabilitation assistance if damaged in a flood or storm.

The "unacceptable" rating has also resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency designating a sizeable portion of the city as being in a flood plain. The action will require many residents and property owners to purchase flood insurance once new FEMA flood maps are finalized in September.

Specific areas identified for repair prior to this summer are the stilling basin and drop structure below Nursery Bridge, the riprap slope and erosion of the levee toe along the east side of the channel downstream of Nursery Bridge and the riprap slope and erosion of the levee toe of the Couse Creek Bridge.

A inspection by the Corps completed in April found additional problems. These included unwanted vegetation, sediment accumulation, culvert blockage and "significant degradation of the channel" which has resulted in down-cutting of the channel bottom. The findings "significantly expanded" the scope, time and funding needed for repairs, according to a report prepared by the Oregon Solutions team.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.

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