Milton-Freewater water board: 'We cannot fail'

The new Water Control District board, which oversees levee repairs, gathered for the first time Wednesday.

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MILTON-FREEWATER -- A new group took up the quest to repair the levees guarding the city Wednesday.

At its first meeting, the Milton-Freewater Water Control District board elected officers and pledged to work as a team to seek passage of a bond to fund the fixes the levees need.

"We cannot fail," said board member Samuel Hopkins-Hubbard. "We need this bond and we need this repair ... We cannot as a community just let this go aside."

Hopkins-Hubbard and fellow board members Manford Anliker and Roger Cosner were formally seated Wednesday to replace the former five-member board that resigned last year. A fourth board member, Bradley Humbert, was not able to attend the meeting due to a prior commitment.

In one of its first actions, the group chose Anliker to be the board chairman and Hopkins-Hubbard as vice chair. They also voted to accept Vern Rodighiero, a member of the previous board who was at Wednesday night's meeting, as the new board's fifth member.

The group agreed to schedule its next meeting for March 16 and also go on an inspection tour of the levees with engineers later in the month.

Umatilla County Commissioner Larry Givens opened the meeting, saying "here's a chance to step out and move ahead" to solve the problem of repairing the levees, which have been decertified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

That action has resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency placing "virtually our entire city in a floodplain," said City Manager Linda Hall. The city will be forced to adopt FEMA's floodplain map, which in turn will require homeowners to buy "horrendously expensive" flood insurance. The action will impact standards for new construction as well.

An appeal of FEMA's decision has bought the city more time, Hall said, and the agency has "committed in writing" that if the levees are recertified the agency will revise the flood maps. "But we can't even bother to apply for that until the levees are repaired," she said.

At the direction of Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongski, an Oregon Solutions team has been formed to work on the problem as well, Hall said. The group is composed of local stakeholders and representatives from the federal, state and local agencies as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

Givens said that given the importance of the Walla Walla River, the issue with the levees goes beyond being a flood control issue.

"Everything that happens on that river will impact all of us living in this valley in some way," he said.

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


Milton-Freewater levee timeline

  • 1952 -- Construction of levees completed.
  • 1964 -- High floods in December and January 1965 inflict massive damage.
  • 1966 -- U.S. Army Corps of engineers awards contract to reconstruct levees. Work includes a drop structure with fish ladder at Nursery Bridge.
  • 2006-2008 -- Levees are classified as "at-risk" by the Corps. Areas identified as needing repair are riprap slope and erosion of the levee toe downstream of Nursery Bridge along the east side of the channel, the riprap slope and erosion of the levee toe of the Couse Creek Bridge and repairs of the stilling basin and drop structure below Nursery Bridge. Three seperate bond issues to raise money for repairs fail. Levees decertified in 2008.
  • 2009 -- Federal Emergency Management Agency issues revised floodplain maps for Milton-Freewater area which show much of the city liable for flooding. Although Milton-Freewater Water Control District remains in place, the district board resigns after being unable to obtain liability insurance for protection from lawsuits connected with their official duties.
  • 2010 -- After calling for volunteers, Umatilla County Commissioners appoint four water control district residents to form new board. Board is seated Tuesday night and votes to accept fifth member who volunteered at meeting to serve on board.

Comments

Hendricks 1 month, 3 weeks ago

What a fantastic move to reduce the threat of the Flood Insurance you would have realized if the Board had not followed up on this. It amazes me as to what you guys have accomplished for the Walla Walla River Basin as well as the local economy. Water is rumored to be the next Oil in the very near future. I have seen what is currently happening in the Yakima Valley I currently callingl home with the Nitrate levels found in the Zillah , Sunnyside and Granger areas. You have a much cleaner aquifer in that there are no dairies in your River Basin. I have also seen another use of the Yakima River in the Form of the Yakima Greenway that is currently attempting to expand its length by extending the path up the Naches River along an old rail line where they can qualify for Rails to Trails funding as well. Where I am going with this comment is the following: What is Keeping Milton-Freewater from developing a Walking, Running , Biking Path along the Walla Walla River that could Link it to what is already happening in Walla Walla as far as Tourism and Wine AVA Distinction. Milton-Freewater and the Walla Walla River are the Reason this is all happening. Please Take advantage of Such and let the Waters and Rocks of Milton-Freewater be know World Wide as your guys are developing these Fine Wines that Walla Walla is Realizing in the Bottle Prices of their Vino. You have fortified the dikes and could link to the Rail at the Nursery Bridge and have Rails with Trails come into Play. Enough of my Notes: I am willing to Chat with you all about this and can do so via email if you desire. Regards, Mike Hendricks

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