Substandard levees receiving repairs to protect South Florida homes

Oct 13, 2011


The following article was published in the Miami Herald on October 13, 2011:

Substandard levees receiving repairs to protect South Florida homes

By Andy Reid

Levees relied on to protect South Florida communities from flooding are getting repairs to address safety concerns, and improvements are on track to meet tougher federal standards, state officials said Thursday.

Inspections since 2009 have raised concerns about the 100-mile -long East Coast Protective Levee, which keeps the Everglades from swamping South Florida neighborhoods in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

The Sun Sentinel last year reported that the Broward County portion of the East Coast Protective Levee failed to meet certification standards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That threatens to raise flood insurance costs for Weston, Coral Springs, Sunrise, Pembroke Pines and Broward’s other western communities if improvements aren’t completed within two years. a two-year window.

In addition to the FEMA concerns, inspectors for the Army Corps of Engineers inspectors have identified deficiencies in portions parts of the levee in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The failure of levees in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina prompted tougher federal regulations nationwide. for levees across the country.

District officials contend that the levees, while in need of improvements, still can protect South Florida. communities from flooding.

In January, the South Florida Water Management District officials questioned whether it could get finish Broward County levee improvements completed by the FEMA deadline.

But on Thursday, water management district officials said they can complete a series of levee upgrades in Broward County by the end of 2013, in time for the deadline.

The levee improvements include: raising about 2,000 feet of the levee; building temporary dikes; removing vegetation growing on the dike; installing monitoring stations to identify potential erosion; and adding a berm along the outside base of portions parts of the levee to reduce water seepage and erosion.

The district expects to spend $14 million on levee improvements in Broward County.

The district is still waiting for the Army Corps’ final findings, needed to determine the cost of improvements in Palm Beach County as well as any more Broward County work.

Erosion, overgrown vegetation and rutting on the levee in Broward and Palm Beach counties were among the issues cited last year by the independent inspectors working for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Those concerns also extended to 29 miles of levees at to a stormwater treatment area , STA 1-East, wedged between Wellington and the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

Inspectors’ concerns prompted portions of the East Coast Protective Levee to be rated “minimally acceptable” or “unacceptable” — the middle and bottom rungs of the Army Corps’ new levee rating system.

One of the “frustrations” with the Army Corps’ new rating system is that few levees across the country have been deemed acceptable, said Tommy Strowd, the district’s director of operations.

“Let’s come up with a standard that fairly assesses,” Strowd said.

District officials are concerned about the public perception problem of investing millions in improvements and still ending up a less than “acceptable” rating.

Ending up with an “unacceptable” rating by the Army Corps means Florida may not get federal funding to fix a levee damaged by a storm.

“We are investing a lot in the infrastructure,” district Board Member Kevin Powers said. “It’s all in how the words come out.”

The East Coast Protective Levee is part of more than 900 miles of levees in Central and South Florida.

The East Coast Protective Levee was built in the 1950s with limestone, shell and soil dug from the edge of the Everglades. It once bordered farmland, but through the decades suburban development spread across much of that agricultural land that once was part of the Everglades.

Broward County is in the midst of updating its federal flood-zone maps. Preliminary updated flood-risk maps for Palm Beach County could be ready by September 2012.

If the East Coast Protective Levee isn’t brought up to FEMA standards, that results in expanding areas considered at a high risk of flooding. That can make flood insurance a requirement for more potential homebuyers in the at-risk areas and make it more expensive to obtain for residents already living in those areas.

The levee improvements come as the water management district faces steep, state-imposed budget cutbacks. The cuts included trimming $10 million from the $60 million the district usually spends to repair and maintain flood-control facilities.

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