Residents get break from levee mandate

The Great Falls Tribune

by Karl Puckett

Some 1,200 Great Falls and Vaughn residents living along the Sun River have received a reprieve from a looming deadline requiring their levees to be certi¬fied or face floodplain status on new federal maps, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Monday.

The Federal Emergency Man¬agement Agency is requiring new digital flood maps.

As part of that process, levees had to be inspected and certified by April 28. Neither levee district has had the levees certified.

Tester said Monday that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agreed to can¬cel the April 28 deadline and send a FEMA certification team made up of national and regional staff to Great Falls to help determine the next steps in the flood re¬mapping process.

Napolitano also was agreeable to Sen. Tester’s request to find a longer term solution to the levee certification and flood map issue. “This is a matter of opening the lines of communication to make sure the right folks are working together, talking to each other, and seeing this issue firsthand,” Tester said in a statement.

Missing the deadline would result in de-accreditation, with the properties being shown as located in the floodplain on the new maps requiring higher insur¬ance rates and lowering property values.

Sandy Mares, administrative commissioner for the West Great Falls Flood Control Drainage District, was pleased by the delay but added that that the issue still had¬n’t been solved. The district still needs to have the levees certified, which could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, she said.

“It’s being crammed down the throats of the locals and we don’t know how to deal with the feder¬al bureaucrats. Our job is levee maintenance,” Mares said.

Residents of the levees districts said the Army Corps of Engineers would not certify the levees and that they could not afford to hire private company.

At a meeting on the problem last year, a FEMA official from Denver said certification of a one¬mile levee in the Denver area would cost $120,000.

“I think that’s good if that will help us work toward getting the Corps to recertify the levees,” Brian Clifton, Cascade County’s Public Works Director, said of the cancelling of the April 28 dead¬line.

The levees are maintained by levee districts, which collect taxes from those who benefit, not the city and county. The West Great Falls Levee District collects $55,000 a year from 875 proper¬ties, about two thirds of which are located within the city limits of Great Falls.

The Great Falls Levees is about seven miles long while the levee protecting Vaughn is two miles.