The Macon Levee in 1997-8
|Macon Telegraph, The (GA) June 14, 1997
Section: B Edition: HOME Page: 1
MAYOR: CORPS TO RECOMMEND RAISING LEVEE
Mike Billips, The Macon Telegraph
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will recommend raising the levee that protects downtown Macon from Ocmulgee River floods, Mayor Jim Marshall said Friday.
``We asked them to look at a number of alternatives,'' Marshall said. ``They've completed their study, and are finishing up their final report. But one of their employees told us this morning that their preliminary conclusion is to raise the levee.''
The corps has been studying the levee since 1990, and concluded early on that it no longer protects the city adequately, Marshall said. So far, the agency has spent $380,000 of city and county money looking at the levee and alternatives to raising it.
Much of the railroad industrial district and part of the central business district is now within a 62-year flood plain, meaning it would be expected to flood on average once every 62 years. The standard for development is to build only on land that is out of the 100-year floodplain.
The recommendation already has opponents. Some locals have argued against raising the levee, saying that it combines with Interstate 16 to choke the river into a narrow channel that is prone to severe flooding.
``It just keeps increasing over the years,'' said John Wilson, a Sierra Club member who has studied the effects of the levee for years. ``I don't think anybody's looking at the big picture. I think it's just setting up for disaster.''
Wilson said that the corps expects the higher levee to just be able to protect the city from 100-year floods. But the chance of such a flood coming along in a given 50-year period is 31 percent, he said.
``They're going to attract all this (additional) industry down there, and when we do get a big flood, it's going to be a disaster,'' he said. ``To me, it's not an environmental thing, it's economic.''
Wilson has suggested breaking the levee south of Central City Park and running it west to create a larger floodplain in the brick-clay mining area south of the industrial district. That plan would put dikes around the sewage-treatment plant and the landfill to protect them.
That suggestion would require a sacrifice from property owners, who would be unable to develop land now protected by the levee.
The corps plans to meet with local officials July 29, and hold a public hearing after that. A final decision on whether to follow the corps' recommendation is up to locals, Marshall said.
The federal government would likely pay 80 percent or more of the cost of raising the levee, estimated in 1993 to cost $7 million to $8 million.
The 5.5-mile levee, completed in 1950, runs from just south of the Otis Redding Bridge down around the industrial and clay-mining land to the south. It directly protects Central City Park, a sewage treatment plant and the city landfill.
The corps' plan would raise and extend the concrete floodwall at the bridge by 4 1/2 feet, tying it in to the railroad embankment through the current site of the Washburn building. The county government recently bought the building and plans to demolish it.
The additional height would taper down to zero at other end of the levee.
The flood wall at the Otis Redding Bridge would include a gate to allow Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to be blocked off in case the water rose too high.
The bridge was endangered in the flood of 1994, which has been assessed by the corps as a 200-year flood. But the levee broke downstream of Central City Park and flooded the industrial area there, relieving pressure on the bridge.
--- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is soliciting public comment on the Macon levee. Those interested can write to: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Attn: David Walker (PD-E), P.O. Box 889, Savannah 31402-0889.
Illustration:MAP: "Raising the levee." / Ric Thornton
Macon Telegraph, The (GA) December 7, 1997 Section: B Edition: HOME Page: 2
ENGINEERS RETURN TO DRAWING BOARD FOR LEVEE CITY, COUNTY HAVE YET TO AGREE FULLY WITH CORPS OF ENGINEERS PROPOSAL
Anna Clark, The Macon Telegraph
Six months after opposition stalled its proposal to raise the Macon levee by several feet in parts, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is coming back with a much more modest plan.
The engineers went back to the drawing board after response in June to its first proposal.
The engineers' new proposal still calls for raising the levee, but only by as much as a foot in parts - significantly less than the previous suggestion.
The project's costs, now estimated at $2.9 million, also are less than half the earlier estimates.
``I'm pleased to hear they do not think we need to raise the levee any significant amount,'' Macon Mayor Jim Marshall said Friday . ``I think the number of local people who will object will be far fewer.''
Before the proposal becomes a reality, the city and county must first sign onto it. Then the engineers would have to establish a 30-day public comment period , in which the public could request a hearing.
Marshall said he expects the local governments to give their go-ahead to the engineers within the next few weeks.
The levee as it now exists - designed to protect lower downtown Macon , including the industrial district and a sewage treatment plant - does not offer protection from a 100-year flood. The engineers' suggested changes to the levee would provide the needed protection, their report contends .
Current development standards call for building only on land protected from the type of flood that can be expected to occur only once each century, on average.
But local residents have worried that raising the levee would cause worse flooding upstream because a higher levee would constrict more water in times of flood and cause a bottleneck that could flood homes and businesses along the river above the levee.
Bob Fountain, Bibb County engineer, emphasized that the levee protects the landfill and a sewage treatment plant.
``The sewage plant and landfill are very critical to municipal and urban life,'' Fountain said. ``When those two things go out, it's chaos.''
Specifically, the engineers' latest plans calls for :
Raising four low spots along the 5.5-mile levee as much as a foot .
Raising a concrete flood wall just south of the Otis Redding Bridge by 10 inches .
Tying the upstream end of the levee at the bridge into the railroad embankment by building a 300-foot-long dike, five feet high, on land just north of the bridge. The earthen dike would cut diagonally across the property of the Washburn Storage building at Riverside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which the county condemned earlier this year and plans to demolish.
The proposed dike is one of the sticking points for local government officials. They believe the dirt structure would be an eyesore and would not mesh with the city's hope to make the Otis Redding Bridge and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard attractive gateways into the city.
``That would look like a big molehill coming into the city,'' Fountain said.
Local officials would rather see a concrete wall.
Other issues with the levee proposal involve trying to get the federal government to pay for developing some recreational paths along the levee and deciding how to pay for the 35 percent of the project that is not covered by federal funds , Marshall said.
He said he is investigating whether certain entities such as the Macon Water Authority should foot a larger portion of the bill than individual taxpayers, because the authority and others would benefit more directly from the levee.
Macon Telegraph, The (GA) January 20, 1998 Section: A Edition: HOME Page: 1
Anna Clark, The Macon Telegraph
When environmentalists in Macon learned in the early 1990s that the Georgia Department of Transportation planned to fill in wetlands for the Eisenhower Parkway extension of the Fall Line Freeway, they were up in arms.
Building the roadway on fill dirt would serve as a dike causing more water to backlog into Macon when the river flooded, they warned.
Enter the flood of 1994.
The DOT met less than two weeks after the flood and started making plans to bridge the wetlands to allow free flow of water in the floodplain around pylons. That would allow wildlife to roam freely as well.
All problems solved, right? Well, not exactly. Some who had opposed the road for environmental reasons were satisfied, but not all.
Because the Eisenhower Parkway extension has been commonly linked with economic development in the downtown industrial park, a number of local environmentalists began to worry that the road would encourage raising the Macon levee, an act they fear would cause worse flooding upstream.
The levee no longer provides 100-year flood protection for the businesses behind it in the floodplain. Without that level of protection, federal flood insurance is more expensive and requires special building designs.
``If they get the freeway, they are going to develop that land,`` speculates John Wilson, a local environmentalist who has says he`s done an extensive flood study in Macon. ``With such an investment, they will raise the levee.``
In its latest Macon levee study, the U.S. Army Corps of Army Engineers recommends that the city and county raise the levee as much as a foot in places. Neither the city or county has agreed to the plan yet, and the corps will hold a public hearing before any decisions are made, said corps spokesman Jim Parker.
Some residents believe the levee contributed to the backup of water in 1994`s flood, damaging homes and businesses upstream.
Besides the levee concern, some believe that even development in the downtown industrial district is unwise.
``In the environmental community, we are all very, very concerned about development in the floodplain,`` said Susan Hanberry, president of Friends of the Ocmulgee Old Fields and a biology teacher at Stratford Academy. ``It`s also a taxpayer concern because I don`t want to bail these people out.``
Additional environmental concerns include encouraging more development on immediately adjacent uplands, putting further pressure on the wetlands, increased noise at the Ocmulgee National Monument and more water pollution in the river from vehicles on a road above wetlands. Besides the air pollution from cars` and trucks` exhaust, vehicles leave behind oil and other petroleum residues that rain washes off the road.
Other environmentalists, however, believe that bridging the wetlands has solved most of the environmental problems with the Eisenhower Parkway extension.
Brian Rood, an environmental scientist at Mercer University, believes that DOT`s preferred route through the Ocmulgee Old Fields might be the best overall alternative for the freeway if the road is designed to contain pollution runoff.
``This is certainly not pristine land,`` said Rood. ``It`s been timbered and mined for clays and peats.``
Allowing the Eisenhower Parkway Extension to cross the land might be the only way to get money to buy the rest of the property through mitigation and hence protect against more development, Rood said.
When more than three acres of wetlands are disturbed by development, federal environmental laws require developers to buy and preserve an equal or greater amount of wetlands, a process known as mitigation.
Rood is especially concerned about protecting the peat deposits just north of DOT`s preferred route. The 19-foot deposits are the second deepest in the state, outside the Okefenokee Swamp. A core sample of 6 feet dates back 7,000 years.
The peat deposit is prime for scientific and archaeological study. Because of the oxygen-free environment, remains found in peat deposits around the world have been perfectly preserved, including human tissue.
While Rood has not won the more outspoken environmentalists to his position, some road opponents have come up with a compromise plan that would allow a portion of the road to be built over wetlands. Their plan would continue Eisenhower Parkway to Interstate 16, with ramps connecting to both directions of interstate traffic. Fall Line Freeway traffic could connect from the west to Ga. 57 by exiting at Ocmulgee East Boulevard from I-16 east.
Part of the compromise would include subdividing the levee below downtown so that flood waters could spread out more quickly. That plan also would produce mitigation money to purchase adjacent wetlands.
It does not satisfy, however, the road proponents` desire for another river crossing to ease downtown congestion.
Illustration:PHOTO: one by Bruce Radcliff, one by Nick Oza
Macon Telegraph, The (GA) April 17, 1998 Section: A Edition: HOME Page: 1
LEAKS THREATEN MACON'S LEVEE
Anna Clark The Macon Telegraph
March flooding revealed problems with Macon's levee that could cause it to break if it's not fixed, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report.
Floodwater tunneled underneath the levee and popped up on the other side, causing bubbling pools of water and sediment that the engineers describe as "boils." The city engineering department called the Army engineers after three such boils were found in February behind the levee at Macon Iron, a scrap-metal-recycling business.
In a reinspection during last month's flooding, 13 boils, nine of which had to be sandbagged to slow erosion of the soil, were found.
"It's basically eating out the levee internally," said Bill Causey of the city Engineering Department.
Businesses on Lower Poplar in the downtown industrial district and the Central of Georgia Railroad would be most at risk if the levee broke again at Macon Iron, Causey said. The boils at Macon Iron are about 100 yards from where the levee broke during the Flood of 1994.
If the boils go untreated, they could "easily" cause the levee to break even if floodwaters don't reach the crest of the levee, according to a report from the Corps of Engineers. The current sandbag solution is only a temporary fix.
But Causey said the city has been monitoring the problem closely and would remedy the situation as soon as the weather allows and the engineers and city decide who will pay for the repairs.
"This is a red flag," Causey said. "It's a defect we're aware of."
Evan Koplin, manager of Macon Iron, said he has believed for years that water seeped onto his property from beneath the levee. In March, when he thought the water might top the levee again, he evacuated his business and removed expensive machinery. Macon Iron suffered $1.7 million in flood damages in 1994.
"The main thing is, it's not just this business," Koplin said. "If the levee goes, the water and sewerage plant goes, too."
Vegetation in the levee, such as roots, stems and stumps, and porous sand under the levee are the apparent culprits. The growth weakens the dirt in the levee, allowing water to seep through. The engineers recommend pulling out all the vegetation and then digging under the boils and lining them with a filter. They have yet to come up with a price tag.
But nothing will be done until at least next month, when officials of the city and the Corps of Engineers meet to inspect the levee together. Who will pay for the repairs is part of a bigger question of who will pay for all the rehabilitation that the engineers say the levee needs.
Of particular debate is who foots the bill to remove the trees and other vegetation all along levee to prevent further problems in other locations - something that would cost about $800,000, Causey said.
But for Koplin, the situation is simple. He's hoping federal and state emergency relief money from the Flood of 1994 is still available to buy his land.
"If I could get out of here, I would," he said.
Illustration:PHOTO: 1 By Robert SeayThe Macon Telegraph
WE NEED YOUR HELP!!
For several years, we and other concerned organizations and individuals, including the Creek and Seminole people, have engaged in an effort to prevent a four-lane, divided highway from desecrating the Ocmulgee Old Fields Traditional Cultural Property (District), the first listing of its kind on the National Register of Historic Places east of the Mississippi River. The TCP encompasses:
Ocmulgee National Monument
Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge
Scott-McCall Archaeological Preserve
Most of Macon’s Central City Park
Much of the Ocmulgee River Heritage Greenway
The proposed Eisenhower Parkway Extension would bisect wetlands between Ocmulgee National Monument’s Macon Plateau Unit and its Lamar Mounds and Village Unit; the highway’s interchange with I-16 would be partially constructed on the Scott-McCall Archaeological Preserve; the road would sever the wildlife corridor linking the National Monument to Bond Swamp National Wildlife just downstream. This “Longest Bridge in Georgia” is the Georgia Department of Transportation’s preferred cross-Macon connector for the Fall Line Freeway. Construction costs for this four-mile-long strip of concrete are currently estimated at $130-million. Local proponents of this route refuse to consider prudent and feasible alternatives that would save massive expeditures of precious public funds and preserve Macon’s nationally significant cultural and natural heritage. For more information: