Levee repair vital to Indiana, Illinois communities

Published Dec. 15, 2010

Since the flooding of June 2008 —preceded by an atypical May soaking—the Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District has worked diligently to repair eight damaged levees in the Wabash and White River basins in Indiana and Illinois.

Several levee systems failed in this area as a result of the historic rainfall and subsequent flooding that occurred during the unprecedented event. In Indiana alone, flood waters affected more than 25,000 people with total flood damage exceeding $1 billion.

The repairs have been completed, and Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Planning Project Manager Theresa Beckham can breathe a sigh of relief. "Our goal is to provide flood risk management for the communities involved, and we were committed to that goal throughout the entire repair effort."

These levees had sustained damages from the flood event such as breaches due to overtopping which also caused large scour areas; internal seepage and piping of embankment materials due to high water; or a failed wing wall. The levees primarily minimize risk for agricultural areas, however some residential structures and businesses lie in some of the protected areas.

A total of 13 levees initially needed repairs from breaches and overtopping where heavy rains had weakened them. Many of these levees were built during the early 1900s. Russell Allison Levee, one of the levees affected, had not failed in more than 50 years.

While the Corps may have originally constructed the levees, it is the local sponsor’s responsibility to operate and maintain them. Under the Rehabilitation Inspection Program (RIP), if the governing body or levee sponsor keeps their levee in good operating condition and the levee is damaged by flooding, the Corps will step in and do the work to repair it under Public Law 84-99. If the levee was a non-Federally constructed levee the costs of the repairs are cost-shared with the government paying 80 percent and the non-federal sponsor paying 20 percent. If the levee was federally constructed the government pays 100 percent of the repairs.

Beckham, whose job it was to keep everything on track regarding work progress, contracts, milestones and funding, worked with the levee associations to identify their interests and keep them in the loop. She led a multi-disciplinary team to identify the most feasible solution for repairs and provided forums for technical assistance. "The process was an invaluable learning experience," she said.

The levee repair projects were prioritized for repairs. The breached levees had the highest priority, and levees with only erosion problems had lowest priority.

The Corps completed the entire fix for the Ambraw, Russell Allison, and Sainte Marie levees—three of the four breached levees—within four months from the time the rain hit the ground to end of construction. The Corps completed Honey Creek Levee repairs within six months due to real estate issues and the fact that there were five separate areas to be repaired.

The Russell Allison and Ambraw levees were addressed first because they had several breaches. They were repaired in October 2008. These two levees form a combined levee system which minimizes flood risk for approximately 33,000 acres of agricultural land, farm homes, several small businesses, the Lawrenceville-Vincennes Airport and many miles of improved roadways.

The Corps rehabilitated the Niblack Levee (Indiana) and England Pond Levee (Illinois), last. Neither of these two levees had breaches; however, they had significant underseepage which can cause a foundation material loss that can potentially threaten the integrity of the levee. The repairs of these eroded levees took longer than the repairs of breached levees due to poor site conditions and poor weather conditions. Inclement weather meant contractors were unable to work. Additionally, these two project sites remained under water for several months. Site conditions caused some delay, but repairs were completed in October 2010.

Two project sponsors, Blocksom and Jenckes Levee Association and McGinnis Levee Association, withdrew their requests for assistance and completed repairs on their own. Island Levee, Rochester McCleary’s Bluff Levee, and Wabash Levee Unit No. 5, three levees that requested assistance, could not be repaired by the Corps of Engineers because the amount of damage was under the required threshold of $15,000. Any damages under $15,000 are considered to be the responsibility of the non-federal sponsor. The Corps offered technical assistance to these three levee associations.

Beckham and her team from engineering; construction; contracting; real estate; planning, programs, and project management; emergency operations center; and office of counsel worked through budgeting, technical, legal, environmental, real estate, and scheduling issues to keep this series of project repairs in the forefront of district leadership.

Because of the potential for loss of life on some of the levee projects, if an issue came up that could put the team behind schedule, the team immediately sat down with leadership to resolve it and to move forward, according to Beckham.

"Particularly when levees are breached, both the Corps of Engineers and the communities are anxious to get them repaired," Beckham said. "The driving force was to protect these communities."

Deputy District Engineer David Dale took note of that fortunate circumstance, along with the deputy commander, who kept the pulse with District Commander Col. Keith Landry on developing issues and progress.

But now that the repairs are finally complete, Beckham said she rests a little easier.

"I really want to offer many thanks to all of the project delivery team members that worked diligently on these projects, the emergency operations center, and Christina Neutz and Dan Frank for their expertise in levee safety and their continued willingness to provide advice and assistance throughout the repair effort," she said.