Milton-Freewater meeting to focus on levee bond

A group advocating for passage of the bond will hold the meeting Thursday evening.

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MILTON-FREEWATER -- A town hall meeting Thursday will put the focus on the city's troubled levee system.

The event, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., at the city's Community Building, 109 Fifth Ave., is sponsored by a group of business and home owners who have formed a political action committee named "MF Do the Math."

The focus of the group is to raise the public's awareness of the impact on every resident of an upcoming bond measure that would raise $2.85 million for repairs to the levee that runs alongside the Walla Walla River, which borders the western edge of the town.

The levee system, operated and maintained by the Milton-Freewater Water Control District, recently received an overall system rating of "unacceptable" after a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers inspection. That prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to change the county-wide maps that depict the flood risk of communities, placing Milton-Freewater inside a floodplain zone and requiring homeowners with mortgages to buy flood insurance.

A bond measure to repair the levee has previously appeared on the ballot three times, noted Manford Anliker, chairman of the Water Control District. The new threat of expensive and mandated insurance is the "hammer" that has been lacking before now, he said this morning. "Before there wasn't any consequence," in voting the measure down, he explained. "Now there's a consequence."

The levees are in poor condition and tax revenues designated for keeping the system in good repair have been far less than the cost. Maintenance work has been deferred year after year, to the point that the levees are in bad shape in many places, according to a news release from MF Do the Math.

Because of the documented condition of the levees, Milton-Freewater would not qualify for federal rehabilitation assistance if a flood were to happen, the group said.

People may not have understood the need before now due to a lack of communication about the levee problem, Anliker speculated.

"If this bond measure is not passed, the negative result would not just be for homeowners, but would reach all of our pocketbooks. The expensive resulting flood insurance costs would bring property values down," noted Paul Seaquist, owner of Century 21 real estate office.

The increased costs will trickle down to raised rents and higher costs of goods and services as landlords and business owners struggle to accommodate the insurance costs, he added.

Most of the Milton-Freewater residents seem to understand the big picture, Anliker said. More people are coming to water district meetings and asking questions. "There seems to be a lot of support so far."

For more information go to www.mfdothemath.com.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322. Check out her blog at blogs.ublabs.org/fromthestorageroom.

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