FEMA forces $624,000 test of levee

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City officials aren't happy about it at all.

During a tight budget year, Augusta has to shell out more than half a million dollars to prove the Savannah River levee won't break and flood downtown. The federal agency accused of botching its response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is requiring it be done by year's end; otherwise, property owners in the vicinity will have to buy flood insurance to get financing.

"I don't see a lot of bang for our buck in that situation, but apparently we're going to have to do it," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said.

With three dams upstream, the prospect of johnboats floating down Broad Street isn't a major concern these days. Some factions want the 90-year-old levee flattened so the riverfront could be as scenic as the one along Hammond's Ferry on North Augusta's side, or better yet, along Savannah's River Street.

Still, on Monday the Augusta Commission's Engineering Services Committee approved paying Cranston Engineering Group, the company that designed the Riverwalk Augusta improvements, as much as $624,470 to certify the levee.

If the full commission approves the expenditure next week, City Administrator Fred Russell said it would be paid with unused special-purpose sales tax funds, so it won't affect efforts to keep the tax rate down this year.

The city has been in talks with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more than a year, talks Mr. Copenhaver and the administrator described as frustrating. FEMA has been redrawing its flood maps in the wake of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans and says that unless Augusta's levee is certified, the city's maps will be drawn as if the levee isn't there.

Even if that were the case, Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker said she's not sure it would make a difference. Augusta built the levee to protect against floods that plagued the city in the 1800s and early 1900s, but now Thurmond Dam controls river flow.

Ms. Tucker drew up a dam-failure plan for Augusta during her 21 years as Richmond County's emergency management director. If the lake waters were somehow unleashed, she said, they'd back up every stream and creek that feeds into the river, and the levee wouldn't be an issue.

"In the event of a dam failure, Augusta is going to flood, and so are we" in Columbia County, Ms. Tucker said.

Augusta could run into other complications -- and expenses -- if the levee doesn't pass certification. Under the corps' Inspection of Completed Works program, the levee rates a 2, for "marginally acceptable," on a scale of 1-3.

Cranston President Tom Robertson said engineers will drill holes down to the levee's foundation at points along its 12-mile stretch to make sure it's stable. Seismic tests would have to be done, and the firm would research the scenario of a dam break.

"There's a lot of work that's got to be done, and it's got to be done in a short amount of time," Mr. Robertson said.

Mr. Copenhaver said Augusta is lucky to have the money on hand, but he wonders about communities along the Mississippi Delta that might not be faring so well in this recession.

"I would guess that at some point somebody's going to ask for stimulus money to certify a levee," he said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

LEVEE HISTORY

After severe floods in 1908 and 1912, the city and the federal government spent $2.2 million on a levee completed in 1918, but waters broke it during Augusta's worst flood on record, in 1929. The levee was enlarged from 1936-40 with help from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Works Progress Administration.

In 1954, the corps finished construction of Clarks Hill Dam, which now controls the river's flow from Augusta to Savannah.

In the 1980s, former U.S. Rep. D. Douglas Barnard pushed through federal legislation allowing the breaches in the levee that made Riverwalk Augusta possible. The levee stretches about 12 miles from the Augusta Canal headgates to Butler Creek.

Source: Augusta Chronicle archives, Army Corps of Engineers

Comments (35) Add comment
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jajo1012
0
Points
jajo1012 03/13/09 - 02:10 am
0
0
Wow... one more thing that

Wow... one more thing that makes us irritated at FEMA. And also: who rates things on a scale of 1 to 3 ? That could hardly seem comprehensive. Sounds like more of a joke to me.

NEone
6
Points
NEone 03/13/09 - 03:05 am
0
0
How about skipping the test

How about skipping the test and letting the people in the area get flood insurance?

Augusta resident
1368
Points
Augusta resident 03/13/09 - 04:06 am
0
0
I'm required to have flood

I'm required to have flood insurance. It doesn't cost alot but maybe this survey will make it to where I don't have to have it.

pthsssh
0
Points
pthsssh 03/13/09 - 05:34 am
0
0
Another informative and clear

Another informative and clear article by Johnny Edwards. I wish the AC had more reporters like him. He seems to be doing the yoeman's work while many of the others focus on nonsense like fictional snow storms, candy apples at the fair, and post cards.

ColCo
559
Points
ColCo 03/13/09 - 06:29 am
0
0
Refuse the test and tear the

Refuse the test and tear the levees down.

paulwheeler
122
Points
paulwheeler 03/13/09 - 07:19 am
0
0
Another unfunded mandate. We

Another unfunded mandate. We can't refuse the gov't, and the gov't can force us to comply. This needs to change, and I think the Constitution mentions means of change other than the ballot box, which in our most recent general election proved to be useless as far as providing intelligent leadership.

BAMABOY
20
Points
BAMABOY 03/13/09 - 07:47 am
0
0
Two questions. First, why do

Two questions. First, why do the citizens of the county have to foot the bill when the Corp of Engineers controls what happens on the levy and why has our mayor not protested along with our commissioners about having to cover the cost. Also, was the Corp asked about all of this and if so, what was thier response.

BAMABOY
20
Points
BAMABOY 03/13/09 - 07:47 am
0
0
Two questions. First, why do

Two questions. First, why do the citizens of the county have to foot the bill when the Corp of Engineers controls what happens on the levy and why has our mayor not protested along with our commissioners about having to cover the cost. Also, was the Corp asked about all of this and if so, what was thier response.

Tell it like it is
35
Points
Tell it like it is 03/13/09 - 08:16 am
0
0
You go BAMABOY! The corp

You go BAMABOY! The corp should have to pay for the test themselves.
Too much Goverment interference going on already. Did New Orleans have to pay for the reconstruction of the failed levee during Katrina? I thought that was the corps responsibility.The federal Govt. gave New Orleans money for years to keep the levee safe.
Our elected officials need to use more clout and not give in to every little demand from the corp.

APiratesLife4Me
0
Points
APiratesLife4Me 03/13/09 - 08:29 am
0
0
Augusta will never match

Augusta will never match Hammonds Ferry or any part of North Augusta for that matter. Why? One look at the city council in Augusta and the answer will be clear.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 03/13/09 - 08:46 am
0
0
Did I read right? Cope and

Did I read right? Cope and the gang of thieves are concerned about wasting money on a test? Sure wish they would feel that way about all the other fine little studies and surveys the have outsourced this year. Now back to the levee, I wonder if we will have to prove once again that we can't close the openings in time to stop a flood? I remember the last time when a huge crane was destroyed proving that, and thats probably why we are certified marginally. And for those not concerned, I watched a program called "gone in a second" where a town in wisconsin was devastated by a sudden collapse of a dam that they never thought would happen. It just seems that when something isn't likely to happen, it just doea.

700
Points
Barry Paschal 03/13/09 - 08:53 am
0
0
Now at least the levee will

Now at least the levee will no longer be a worthless pile of dirt blocking Augusta's view of the river. Now it will be a $624,000 pile of dirt blocking Augusta's view of the river. The city should have spent a fraction of that money to challenge the imperial Corps in court. Let's face it: If the levee is so great, why doesn't the Corps require North Augusta to build one?

AugustaVoter
2
Points
AugustaVoter 03/13/09 - 08:55 am
0
0
ColCo, Tell it like it is,

ColCo, Tell it like it is, APiratesLife4Me, you all have my vote of acceptance. I agree with all of you on your comments. It would be nice to have something that looks appealing however given the last big project failure, i.e. 5th and Reynolds, I doubt tearing down the levee with do anything for Augusta. And remember when the developer backed out we paid them back. I don't think we can keep affording that with the current regime.

AugustaVoter
2
Points
AugustaVoter 03/13/09 - 08:58 am
0
0
Hey disssman, That is one

Hey disssman, That is one plus about living in South Augusta. No Levees or rivers!

AugustaVoter
2
Points
AugustaVoter 03/13/09 - 09:00 am
0
0
Hey Barry thats because water

Hey Barry thats because water flows downhill and Augusta is one big s-- hole in the ground! Like the field latrines we built in the military...

jamc1103
134
Points
jamc1103 03/13/09 - 09:33 am
0
0
North Augusta doesn't have to

North Augusta doesn't have to have a levee because they are on a higher plain than Augusta. If the levee wasn't there the water would just spill over into Augusta and most of N. Augusta(except for parts like Hammond's Ferry) wouldn't be effected. Think about it, what is the first thing you do when you go into N. Augusta? You climb a big hill, so they have a natural levee.

What4
0
Points
What4 03/13/09 - 09:48 am
0
0
Interesting..short memories,

Interesting..short memories, here. I can recall a downtown flood while working at University Hospital in the early 90's. It really was not caused by anything more than a stalled tropical storm!! It would be really interesting to see what might happen with a worse situation and a break in the earthen levee system (gee..we have not seen disaster after disaster caused by breaks in earthen levees). Again, short-sighted local government.

edieed321
0
Points
edieed321 03/13/09 - 10:04 am
0
0
I'll give you a technical,

I'll give you a technical, engineering opinion right now; it won't fail because the dam won't fail. What's the next problem on the list?

Riverman1
79531
Points
Riverman1 03/13/09 - 10:20 am
0
0
Mr. Copenhaver, tear down

Mr. Copenhaver, tear down this levee. (Bumper sticker on my truck.) There is no need for the levee with Thurmond Dam. University Hospital flooded because of water coming over the canal and rain in the city. The levee, if anything worsened, the flooding by creating a fishbowl effect not letting the water out. Tear down the levee.

Little Lamb
43901
Points
Little Lamb 03/13/09 - 10:23 am
0
0
Sorry, Barry, if the city

Sorry, Barry, if the city challenges the Corps in court, the legal fees would exceed the "study" costs. Better option is just to refuse to do the test and let the residents pay flood insurance. I presume those on the "other" side of the river already are paying since they are not "protected" by a levee.

deeo1055@yahoo.com
0
Points
deeo1055@yahoo.com 03/13/09 - 10:59 am
0
0
AugustaVoter, The levee ends

AugustaVoter,
The levee ends at Lock & Dam and Butler Creek which flows across S Augusta from the upper end of Fort Gordon, to Pepperidge Subdivision, by Phinzee Road and P&G and the north end of Bush Field. My clan has been here since 1730's and that seems like S Augusta or South Richmond County-Augusta to me. Better keep that Levee, rain will come, heck might me next week or 500 years, but ma nature lives on even when we get our dirt nap. Levee has already been built, dont wanna hear Augusta just like New Orleans when the water comes, which it will. I use to own river front land below Augusta and I have seen river rise 20+ feet and flood me out for weeks at a time by 3-4 feet when I had cattle on a mound surrounded by water. Old timers who owned that land pre-Clark Hill said then floods only last "a couple of days----but the water was 40 [FORTY FEET] deep" So...........................................

deeo1055@yahoo.com
0
Points
deeo1055@yahoo.com 03/13/09 - 11:06 am
0
0
PS To those who want that

PS
To those who want that levee down, you need to read a 1929 story in the Atlanta Constitution entitled "Noah's Ark in Georgia".
Concerns a story of two men who survived the 1929 flood with the owners cattle on a wooden platform on land that adjoined my old place. Water rose to the floor of their structure, BEFORE IT SUBSIDED and they were proably praying like crazy. Members of Mayor Deke's family now own that land---so before he gripes or dismisses the power of a swollen Savannah River he cannot stop or arrest, he needs to read that media documentation from 1929. Just because ex-Ga Governor Carl Sanders could use his great abilities to get the Corps to make changes that ALLOWED the building of those beautiful N Aug areas DOES NOT MEAN anyting about nature has been changed.

deeo1055@yahoo.com
0
Points
deeo1055@yahoo.com 03/13/09 - 11:15 am
0
0
PSS Besides the fact that the

PSS
Besides the fact that the city was ALSO FLOODED GREATLY in 1929, how many of ya'll know how close the dam at Clark Hill came to being lost in 1964 deluge??? What kind of effect do you think 70,000+ surface acres of water at that elevated level with the greatly swollen Savannah River would have caused to Columbia Co-N Augusta-Augusta??? And if that 1991 rainfall of 17+ inches had of been centered at Hartwell GA instead of at Louisville GA, could Clark Hill, etc. have held it all??? Better be real careful folks.

nems
0
Points
nems 03/13/09 - 11:22 am
0
0
There is no need for the

There is no need for the levee with Strom Thurmond dam to stop the flood waters. If Strom Thurmond dam fails the levee would be useless!

shamrock
376
Points
shamrock 03/13/09 - 11:46 am
0
0
Pam Tucker loves to take

Pam Tucker loves to take credit for things she never did. The plan was developed by her predecessor ... George McElveen ... not his secretary, Pam Palmer Smith Tucker!! All she did was the typing. Later, as the Director she would redo the exact same plan and place her name on it. Sort of like if Obama re-published the Declaration of Indepence and putting his name in place of John Hancock ... then claim it as his work!

USACE-PA
0
Points
USACE-PA 03/13/09 - 11:53 am
0
0
For those who wanted to know

For those who wanted to know if the Corps was consulted for Mr. Edwards' story -- Yes, we were. We provided much information to Mr. Edwards he used in the story. We noted that the City of Augusta may do with the levee as it pleases. The levee belongs to the city not the federal government. We have three rating levels for our "Inspection of Completed Works" program - acceptable, marginally acceptable, or unacceptable. A levee will only have a pass-fail grade during a flood. Marginally acceptable is a warning that repairs need to be made and indicates there are problems that need to be addressed. Again, the levee belongs to the people of Augusta. It's up to the elected officials of Augusta to decide what to do with it. The US Army Corps of Engineers has no say. (signed) BILLY E. BIRDWELL Chief, Public Affairs Savannah Distsrict, US Army Corps of Engineers

minime
0
Points
minime 03/13/09 - 11:55 am
0
0
FEMA is another worthless

FEMA is another worthless government agency trying to justify their existance by spending (someone elses) money - be it local, state, or fed (tax?). More has been done by individuals, corporations for folks...now let's not bring the slow moving, anitquated Corps into the matter...they haven't even figured out how (or why - let's not bring that up for discussion again) to control the river flow. No doubt, a study a few years back did confirm if the dam failed, the levee would be useless. It also would be extremely expensive to remove the levee... although most of the dirt would probably end up as levees surronding the local politicians houses - just in case.

pizzato
3
Points
pizzato 03/13/09 - 03:43 pm
0
0
Barry Paschal is right if

Barry Paschal is right if North Augusta doesn't have a levee why does Augusta have to have one? I think the area of River North below the 5th street bridge was deemed flood plains until the people who owned the land (Politicians?) wanted to sell it then it was changed because of the dams up stream and River North was developed. I think the corps should take the money and hire someone else to manage the dams the don't have a dam idea of what's going on. Perhaps this is just a bailout for FEMA in disguise?

Riverman1
79531
Points
Riverman1 03/13/09 - 03:44 pm
0
0
We built Thurmond Dam in

We built Thurmond Dam in order to prevent flooding. Read what Mr. Birdwell wrote. The levee is useless. Let the thinking leaders of the city start to work on removal. It sounds like the right time with the Feds now demanding $600, 000.

AsItIs
1
Points
AsItIs 03/13/09 - 04:28 pm
0
0
Mr. USACE-PA, does the Corp

Mr. USACE-PA, does the Corp sell electricity to GA Power?
What does the Corp do with the money?

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