Community Fights to Improve Levees
October 30, 2013 12:00 am
BY SCOTT FITZGERALD, The Southern
WOLF LAKE — U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials from St. Louis visited with Shawnee High School juniors and seniors Tuesday and answered questions about two major levee issues arising this summer.
Senior Austin Treece spotted a sand boil in June, two miles directly west of the high school and notified local levy commission officials. Together with his classmates, Justin Goodman and Aiden McMahan, they worked with the commission to sandbag the boil that had potential to breach a levee.
“It was pretty overwhelming. We got it stopped before the levee had a chance to burst,” McMahan said.
Another problem arose when a major drainage pipe in Grand Tower on the Big Muddy Levee collapsed, leading to a sink hole on top of the levee. Funds were raised for a new pipe through community events such as chicken and dumpling dinners, but money is lacking for tons of dirt work needed to complete the repair, said Shawnee social sciences teacher Jamie Nash-Mayberry.
Nash-Mayberry initiated student interest and activism in area levee problems more than three years earlier that has led to visits from high ranking officials such as congressmen, federal engineers from Army Corps district offices and representatives from several drainage districts that border major waterways such as the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
On Tuesday, Army Corps officials Pat Conroy, a geotechnical engineer, and Jamie McVicker, a levee safety program manager, both of the St. Louis office gave presentations and answered questions.
Each stated the corps is prohibited from lobbying for federal funding for specific project work. The corps acts more in an advising capacity, working with local levee districts to evaluate risk assessments and providing frameworks for effective flood risk management programs, McVicker told the students.
Conroy addressed a specific page of questions prepared beforehand by Nash-Mayberry and her students that specifically asked about relief wells, drainage pipes, slope stability and other specific problems such as cattle grazing on levee territories.
The engineer said he prefers seepage berms as a method to prevent and control potential flooding.
“Relief wells cost $50,000 to install and on-going maintenance costs. That’s a lot of money,” Conroy told the students.
He said the army corps advises drain and levee districts to work and join together to reduce costs when specific engineering work is needed.
Treece, Goodman and McMahan said at the end of the presentations they learned more about addressing levee problems. But, funding for improvements remains a problem, they said.
“It’s the cost we can’t afford. We need help,” McMahan said.
Nash-Mayberry said plans this spring term for continuing student involvement with levee problems include working with SIU to produce a video for U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart to aid in his effort to procure more federal funding for flood risk and regional levee concerns.