Milton-Freewater levies back in Army Corps of Engineers program.

Repairs on the Milton-Freewater levees have resulted in part of the system regaining protection from the agency.

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MILTON-FREEWATER -- Repairs on the levees protecting the city have allowed portions of the system to regain protection from flood damage.

After an inspection by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month and acceptance of a letter of intent outlining plans to fix remaining deficiencies, sections of the system are back in the Corps' Rehabilitation and Inspection Program.

Approval of the System-Wide Improvement Framework Letter of Intent from the Milton-Freewater Water Control District gives the district two years to get a plan approved to fix remaining deficiencies in the system, said Manford Anliker, water control district chairman.

During that time, the district is allowed to be eligible for federal assistance in case certain parts of the levees are severely damaged by flooding. The goal of the district and other agencies involved is to have a plan approved by this summer, officials said.

Built in the 1950s, the levees were classified "at-risk" by the Corps in 2006 due to areas that needed repair. The system was subsequently removed from the rehabilitation and inspection program, making the structures ineligible for federal assistance if damaged by flood or a storm.

The loss of accreditation came as the Federal Emergency Management Agency was in the process of updating flood maps throughout the U.S. Because the Milton-Freewater levees were rated as "unacceptable," new flood maps were drawn as if the levees were basically non-existent. The action required many residents to buy flood insurance.

Repair efforts took a major step forward in November 2010, when residents in the flood control district overwhelmingly approved a bond measure to fund repairs. The $2.85 million measure passed with 80 percent of the voters saying "yes."

Prior to the bond election, a host of local, state, federal and tribal agencies had come together under the coordination of an Oregon Solutions team to pledge cooperation in finding fixes for the levee system. A "declaration of cooperation" was signed by representatives from at least 17 agencies in August 2010 in a ceremony chaired by Oregon state Sen. David Nelson.

Anliker said Monday the repairs done so far have significantly cut down the approximately 200 deficits identified by inspections.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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