Residents of Bushman and Ames Acres are not as protected from the Little Colorado River as they might think.
County officials attended last Tuesday’s City Council meeting to ask the City of Winslow for a letter agreeing that the Winslow levee needs to be decertified — a process that would officially claim the levee is inadequate. In doing so, floodplain maps would be redrawn thrusting those residents and possibly Winslow Manor into a higher risk flood zone. And that would mean higher insurance payments for the homeowners.
County officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requests the City of Winslow agree but the feds do not require the letter to decertify the levee.
The county received an independent report in January that showed the build up of sediment along the levee has shortened it to below FEMA standards and that the breech that occurred on December 31 was at least partly due to animal burrows.
With knowledge of this report, Navajo County Supervisor J.R. DeSpain (District III) said the county must allow the Army Corps of Engineers to decertify the levee and put the residents north of I-40 back into a high-risk flood zone.
“We don’t want to decertify the levee but we don’t have an option now that the information is out there,” DeSpain said. “We’re forced to treat the levee like it doesn’t exist.”
County officials said decertification could take 18 months to complete. Then the Corps of Engineers must recertify the levee, which could take an additional 18 months.
Navajo County Interim Public Works Director Dusty Parsons told the Council that a worst-case scenario could be five and a half years.
Although the breech occurred just north of Bushman Acres near Brigham City, sedimentation has lowered other areas of the levee further south. Residents in Winslow Manor, an area east of Ruby Wash, could also be placed in a high-risk zone, which would undermine the purpose of the wash. When the county raised the freeboard on the Ruby Wash, those people were taken out of the flood zone.
However, Kent Delph of Delph Engineering, which the county contracted to evaluate the levee, said he thinks those residents are not at risk.
“We’re going to do everything we can to not put those people in the flood plain,” he said. “And I think we can even do that administratively.”
Delph worked for Navajo County during the last levee break in 1993. He said he has a study from the Bureau of Reclamation that shows the aggradation has stabilized so it won’t continue to be a problem. Aggradation is the process by which a stream’s grade steepens due to increased sediment deposits.
DeSpain and Parsons told the City Council that they are expecting to hear from the Corps of Engineers before July 31 about whether the federal government would perform the immediate repairs on the levee. If not, Parsons said the county would hire a contractor.
But the repairs would be a temporary fix. For recertification, the levee is going to need extensive work in a few areas and that would be costly.
The county officials could not say what the cost would be, but DeSpain said they are hoping the Corps of Engineers would agree to do the work and pick up 65-percent of the total. Besides the savings to county taxpayers, using the Corps to repair the levee instead of a contractor would speed up the recertification process and cut out some of the red tape.
DeSpain said the county made the levee its number one priority on its list of needs to U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi.
“I think the Corps knows enough about this, Renzi’s office is well aware and Renzi has been pushing them on the other side and I think it’s going to happen,” he said.
If the Corps of Engineers says no, the county’s plan B is to raise taxes to have the approximately $6.5 million needed for repairs by 2009. DeSpain said if that should happen the tax would be rolled back once the county has the money it needs.
“It’s going to have to happen if we’re going to meet our 2009 deadlines,” he said.
DeSpain also announced the creation of a committee that will study and report on issues with the levee. He said Winslow resident Jim O’Haco has already joined the committee and asked Council to appoint another member.
Council members voted to bring up the issue at the next meeting scheduled for May 10, however, they did not take action on the county’s request for the letter to FEMA.