Oregon Town Passes Bond Measure to Save on Flood Insurance

August 1, 2011

MILTON-FREEWATER, Ore. _ The levee system along the Walla Walla River is badly in need of repair in one Eastern Oregon town, costing homeowners a flood insurance premium until the system is fixed.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stopped certifying the levee system near Milton-Freewater, Ore., in 2007. The corps said it discovered damage during inspections that rendered the levee unusable.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency then redrew flood maps as if no levee were in place. Homeowners were forced to buy flood insurance because of the change in designation.

The East Oregonian reports voters approved a $2.85 million bond in November to pay for improvement. Project managers say the bond’s cost to individual property owners is less than the premium for flood insurance.

The work _ and new FEMA maps _ are expected by next summer. The current maps show the possibility of shallow flooding in most of the city and some outlying areas.

The Milton-Freewater Levee System consists of four separate levee segments along 9 miles of the Walla Walla River running through the city. The segments, built in 1951, needed an upgrade in 1967 after heavy flooding, but little work has been done since.

Erosion into cohesive soil and thick vegetation were the main reasons for the levee system’s failing grade from the Army Corps of Engineers.

“Unwanted vegetation and deficient interior drainage structures appear to be the main concerns,” a Corps of Engineers study reported about one of the levee segments last year. “We recommend the overall system be rated as `unacceptable.’ ”

Bond measures put forward in 2007 and 2008 to repair the levee failed. Then, FEMA issued new flood maps and the city’s residents were forced to choose between paying for the bond measures and paying for flood insurance.

The work will be spread over this summer and next summer, primarily because of the time needed to obtain permits, said project engineer John Wells.

Excavation crews have begun to pump water out of a spill basin. Once that’s done, they can evaluate the damage to the basin and repair it with concrete.

Water flows off the drop structure above the basin like a year-round waterfall. Over time the water and sediment wore holes in the bottom of the structure.

Wells said he doesn’t know how long a new concrete bottom will last.

“The last one lasted for 50 years,” Wells said. “If we get that much, we’re doing good.

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