Ark. River Levees Need $4M in Repairs Under New Guidelines

May 1, 2007

Miles of levees along the St. Francis River in Craighead County, Ark., have been deemed unacceptable by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, meaning homeowners there may need to purchase flood insurance if $4 million in repairs aren’t made.

Craighead County Judge Dale Haas says the ruling affects about 27 miles on the east and west sides the levee snaking through the county. Haas said he was surprised by FEMA’s decision, as the county has usually passed inspections by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the past.

The decision comes as FEMA works to modernize its flood plain maps around the country. Those maps are used by mortgage companies and FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program to determine whether property owners should be required to purchase flood insurance.

“I contend nothing’s wrong to start with,” Haas said. “In my opinion they’re trying to revise the flood maps in Arkansas and around the United States to offset their costs from Hurricane Katrina.”

Haas said FEMA has given Craighead County two years to repair the levees. He estimates the project will cost the county $2 million to do half of the work. Haas said the St. Francis Levee District has agreed to do the other half of the project at about the same cost.

The county will repair 13.5 miles of levees from the Greene County line to Lake City. The flood district will take over from there to the Poinsett County line.

Rob Rash, chief engineer and CEO of the levee district, said it is a major undertaking.

“We’ve got lots of levees to work on in the region,” Rash said. “The biggest issue is to clear areas of trees in the buffer zone along both sides of the river. We are coming to Craighead County to help keep them in compliance with FEMA’s new rules and regulations.”

Other affected counties include Clay, Cross, Greene, Mississippi and Poinsett. Residents in parts of those counties pay levee taxes to the St. Francis district.

The work likely will take six to eight weeks, though Rash said that could change once crews get started after July 4.

U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., has been a critic of FEMA and described the levee ratings as “another example of FEMA and Homeland Security’s complete incompetence.”

“This new directive by FEMA could result in an unnecessary financial burden for residents, businesses and local municipalities protected by levees that have been certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Berry said.

Haas agreed with Berry’s assessment.

“We’re told to get the levees in compliance with no funding,” Haas said. “Just get it done. I think Congress should get some guidelines in place if they haven’t already. They need to get FEMA to use some common sense.”

Information from: The Jonesboro Sun,

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