Walden gets Milton-Freewater levee update

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MILTON-FREEWATER - Oregon U.S. Rep. Greg Walden got a close-up look at repair work on the city's troubled levee system last week.

Walden visited the Nursery Bridge stilling basin site where work is under way to fix the structure's eroding concrete. While at the location, he was briefed on progress by local and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials.

The repair work is one of the visible results of a $2.85 million bond issue passed by local voters last November to help repair the levees.

Constructed in the early 1950s, the system has been rated as "unacceptable" by the Corps due to structural deficiencies, meaning it is ineligible for federal assistance if damaged by a flood or storm.

The rating has also resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency designating a sizeable portion of the city as being in a flood plain. That action has required many residents to purchase flood insurance.

While visiting the Nursery Bridge site Thursday, Walden heard from project engineers and Corps officials, including Lt. Col. David Caldwell, Walla Walla District commander, about issues still facing the levee repairs, including the still-undecided question of removing vegetation on the levees that enhances the fish habitat, but could threaten the structures by allowing erosion.

On a plus note, project engineers said much of the repair work is on track to be completed this year, although some will have to wait until the next work window opens in 2012 during the low-water period when fish passage would not be affected.

Walden said the progress being made on the repairs is remarkable given the current economic situation, especially in regards to the local community coming together to approve the bond issue.

Communications between agencies involved in the project have also improved, which are leading toward resolutions instead of roadblocks.

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

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