Consultants arrive to study levee

by nathan oster

A team of consultants from AMEC arrived in Greybull earlier this week to conduct a site assessment of the levee that runs along the Big Horn River and protects homes and businesses during times of extreme high water.

Alex Colonel, who is heading the effort by AMEC, said Tuesday afternoon that data collection had been completed and that the purpose of the site assessment was simply to identify “areas of concern” in the levee, which was built in 1952 and stretches for approximately three miles.

Colonel said his team planned to leave town the next day, Wednesday, and that the push when they got back in their offices would be to “document everything we found and begin the analysis phase.”

Asked about his initial impressions, Colonel said, “The levee seems to be in good shape, but there are some areas of concern —  and I think the ‘oxbow’ (on the south end of town) is at the forefront of everybody’s mind right now.”

AMEC officials were joined on the walk-through by Mayor Bob Graham, Town Foreman Dalen Davis, Emergency Management Coordinator Ernie Smith and Brett Smith, who represents Engineering Associates.

The town is paying AMEC $225,000 for its help in getting the dike recertified.

In the past, the town has dealt primarily with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — and the levee has always been “provisionally accepted.”  But since Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has taken a greater role nationwide, Graham said. In fact, it is FEMA, and not the Corps, that the town must deal with moving forward.

The inspection of the levee involves checking all the places where it is penetrated, zeroing in primarily on soil compaction and stabilization.   When AMEC is done, the town will have a full report on any deficiencies that were found in the dike, recommended procedures to address those deficiencies and suggested funding sources to pay for the work.

Graham reiterated that the town proceeded with the recertification of the levee because it didn’t want local residents to be required to take out flood insurance when borrowing government money to purchase a home.

“Until now if you had government money in a mortgage, lending institutions didn’t require you to have flood insurance,” Graham said. “But now that FEMA’s involved, it’s going to be a requirement. If we didn’t have the levee certified, and you went to a lending agency wanting to purchase a house, that lending agency would require you to have flood insurance.”

Until now, flood insurance for a home or business in Greybull has ranged between $80 and $100 a year.  Without a certified levee, that annual premium would rise to between $1,200 and $1,500.

“You’re talking about a huge difference for someone like a first-time homebuyer making $12 to $15 an hour,” he said. “Instead of a house payment of between $450 and $500 … you’d be talking closer to $600 or $700, just because of the flood insurance requirement.”