MILTON-FREEWATER -- A new group took up the quest to repair the levees guarding the city Wednesday.Andy Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8318. Check out his blog at blogs.ublabs.org/randomthoughts.
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.
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.