Levee study: Army Corps puts boots on the ground

Amorette Allison
Star Staff Writer

If you notice an official-looking vehicle driving slowly down the street next week full of people peering out, chances are there’s nothing to worry about. What you’re likely observing is the next step in the effort to get new flood protection levees for Miles City.

New levees would better protect the town and take numerous properties out of the official flood plain, relieving owners of the costly requirement of purchasing federal flood insurance.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will be sending representatives to Miles City Aug. 14-18 as part what the agency described in a news release as “a collaborative flood risk management study.”

The collaborative part is that both city and county employees and officials are actively involved in the study.

Two vehicles — one from the city with Flood Plain Administrator Sam Malenovsky along, and one from the county with a county commissioner accompanying — will be driving around town to determine what structures in the Miles City area are in the flood plain, what type of structure it is, and the approximately height of the foundation of that structure.

“People are going to see something is actually happening,” said Malenovsky. The study is needed to conduct a cost/benefit analysis for the proposed new levee system. The essential question is whether the town itself is worth as much as the levee is going to cost.

While there is really no question that all the buildings in Miles City are worth more than the cost of the new levee, the USACE require specific numbers to make the analysis.

All assessments will be conducted from the street and assessors will not need to enter private property.

Malenovsky stated that the engineers from KLJ Engineering, who are conducting much of the engineering on the proposed levee, have already done their on-site study of hazardous or other dangerous materials along the probable locations of the Tongue River levee. They have found nothing that the city wasn’t already aware of and had mapped.

While the Section 205 study — so-called because it appears as Section 205 in the Flood Control Act of 1948 and provides government guidelines and funding for projects like these — currently covers only the Tongue River section of the planned levee, this study will evaluate every structure in the entire flood plain, not just the portion affected by the proposed Tongue River levee.

When a 2005 study that only looked at the Tongue River came up with a rough cost-benefit ratio of 7-to-1, Greg Johnson, a hydraulic engineer with the USACE, described it at the time as “off the charts.” Most cost benefit ratios are closer to 3- or 4-to-1.

With calculations for all of the structures in the flood plain for Miles City taken into account, there should be no question the cost of constructing the levee will be much less that the cost of replacing the najority of the town.

The public will have opportunities to comment on the results of the assessments and the on-going study at public meetings in the future. 

Comments or questions can be directed to the Omaha District Public Affairs Office at 402-995-2417 or to Samantha Malenovsky with the city of Miles City at 406-234-3493.

(Contact Amorette Allison at 406-234-6135 or mcreporter@midrivers.com.)