By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald
---- — After two costly failures in the last five years officials in Daviess County are looking to get the Bennington Levee certified by the Army Corps of Engineers.
County officials and the Bennington Levee Board have been working with the Corps of Engineers for several months, but so far have not been able to get the federal agency to give its approval to the levee.
“This is something both the county and the levee committee want,” said President of the Daviess County Council Mike Myers.
The reason they want it is because the potential to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on repairs following a failure makes sense. The last breach of the Bennington Levee in March of 2011 cost around $1 million to fix. The county has managed to recover around $600,000 from a lawsuit against several people involved in ditch work near the levee, and the Bennington Levee Committee has approved a special assessment that will pay off most of the remaining money over an 11-year period.
“That’s some serious dollars,” said Myers.
County officials had looked for help from both state and federal sources to cover the cost of those repairs, but had no success. “If that levee had been certified by the corps then we would have been able to get the federal government to help pick up the tab for repairs,” said Myers.
The collapse of the levee in 2011 came just three years after the county had been involved in another big repair job. The county was able to secure some federal assistance to repair the breach in June of 2008.
The Army Corps of Engineers has inspected the levee and produced a list of items that need to be improved in order to receive certification. “We have a check list,” said President of the Daviess County Commissioners Tony Wichman. “I know it has been presented to the levee committee and they are working on it. “
Just how close the levee committee is to filling out that check list isn’t clear. When asked about the progress toward getting a Corps of Engineers certification committee chairman Thomas Graham, Jr. told the Times Herald: “I won’t comment on that.”
“They say they are trying,” said Wichman, “but it is my understanding that each time the levee board gets something done the corps seems to come along with two more things for them to do to achieve certification. I’m afraid we will never get this through the bureaucracy of the corps. They will mire this down in bureaucratic muck and it will go on for an eternity.”
Some other officials though have a more positive outlook including County Attorney Grant Swartzentruber. “The county, the committee and the corps are continuing to work to get into compliance,” he said. “The corps appears optimistic they (the levee committee) will come into compliance. They are moving in the right direction.”
The county though, is uncertain when the levee committee will reach the final destination of certification. “We want them to get into compliance sooner than later,” said Swartzentruber.
“It would be a huge asset to get it certified,” added Wichman. “I hope the levee board stays on the Corps of Engineers. That is the only way this will get done.”
Getting the Bennington Levee back onto the corps’ list of certified levees will remain a priority. “We know it is an old levee with a lot work that may have to be done,” said Myers. “The thing now is just get it certified.”