Saturday, November 26, 2011

When A Levee Needs Repaired Fast, the USACE Turns To Schultz and Summers Engineering

SSE was selected by the Memphis Corps of Engineers District to perform all the
testing for Operation “Make Safe,” the emergency repair work on the Birds Point Levee. 

Crops ready to be harvested behind the new levee

EAST PRARIE, MO- Last May the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) intentionally blew up the Birds Point- New Madrid Floodway levee, flooding over 130,000 acres with up to 23 feet of water and damaging hundreds of buildings and homes in the floodplain.  In addition to the property damage, the blast and ensuing floodwaters left three giant crevasses that totaled nearly three miles in length. This left those same homes and millions of dollars worth of crops vulnerable to the mighty Mississippi River this fall. “If the area were to flood again it would put many people out of business”, stated Carlin Bennett, the Mississippi County Presiding Commissioner.

Additionally, the raging waters left several huge scour holes up to three stories deep and four football fields wide.  SSE owner Stan Schultz said, “The amount of soil needed to repair these breeches and sand to fill in the scour holes is massive.  Helping the USACE accomplish this task before the fall rains could harm this year’s harvest has been very satisfying.”
Mark Ritter in the bottom of a scour hole that is almost filled in

When the Memphis corps district went looking for a material testing company to help with Operation “Make Safe”, they called the Army corps district that has the most experience in repairing levees-New Orleans. Because of the stellar performance by Schultz and Summers in New Orleans, they have quickly become known as a company that can perform fast and reliable soil tests when called upon. It wasn’t long before SSE received a call asking if they would be interested in providing testing services for the corps on the Birds Point Levee Floodway. Said Schultz, “Of course we were excited about working on such an important project, and helping repair a critical levee right here in our own backyard was very appealing. I immediately sent them my top soil technician, Mark Ritter, because I knew he would help to keep the project moving.”  

With such a tight schedule the corps didn’t have time to solicit design and construction bids, so they decided to do this job themselves.  They quickly designed the interim levee, brought 41 pieces of dirt moving equipment and 43 corps personnel from several different districts to southeast Missouri, and began work.  There were only two outside contractors involved in the project, Schultz and Summers Engineering for testing and J.W. Transport for trucks to haul the needed soil and sand.

One item of contention has been the height of the interim levee.  The current design is the same as the 51 foot river gauge at Cairo, IL.  Once funding is approved, the plan is to take the levee back up to its original height of 62.5 feet.  The interim repairs are projected to cost $15 million and it will cost another $21 million to raise it back to the original height. But corps spokesman Jim Pogue said, “Corps officials are evaluating the whole Mississippi River flood protection system before ranking projects, but where there is a potential for loss of life, that’s always going to be at the top of the list. The floodway is important. It’s going to happen. It’s not an if, it’s just a when.”  

Amazingly, this project started June 16, 2011 and is on track to be completed by November 30, 2011. Currently they have completed 95% of the work at the upper crevasse, 56% at the center crevasse and 100% at the lower crevasse.  “We’re still on target to meet the deadline,” said Pouge.

The follow-on project to Operation “Make Safe”, called Operation “Restore”, will reconstruct the floodway system to the pre-operational level of protection. The construction schedule is contingent on the availability of funding.  Clearly, the gridlock in Washington has slowed the appropriations process down. But earlier this year Jo Ann Emerson led the charge to get $589 million for levee repairs pushed through the House Appropriations Committee and recently the U.S. Senate passed Senator Blunt’s amendment and included it in the FY2012 spending bill for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

Blunt said, “We must work to provide communities with short term and long term recovery and disaster mitigation, which is why I recently introduced an amendment that was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee to add $400 million to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) — funding that picks up where FEMA leaves off.”

Many farmers gambled that the fall flooding wouldn’t come and planted crops after the flood waters receded.  Memphis Corps District employee Mark Broughton reports that about 90% of the flood way had crops planted.  He said most of it was in beans and they were planted late, but some farmers have gotten 50 to 60 bushes per an acre. Of course those farmers who owned land in the 10% that was totally destroyed, didn’t fare so well.     

Until the funding is approved for the higher levee, the threat of spring flooding has most farmers apprehensive about planting more crops in the floodway.  Many farmers are seeing crop insurance rates twice as high as 2010. With the Mississippi River staying at record summer levels along with a levee that is 11 feet shorter than the old one, residents are worried that even normal flooding could breach the interim levee.  KFVS News reported that county officials told them the data shows the river has been over 51 feet seven times in the last 12 years.

 Bobby Carlisle USACE, Mark Ritter SSE and Mark Broughton USACE
Schultz and Summers Engineering has played a major role in assisting the corps personnel in keeping the project on schedule.  Making sure the soil has the right amount of moisture and compaction is important to the long term strength of any levee.  SSE soil technician Mark Ritter said, “We have done over 300 tests so far on the project.  The results have been outstanding and everything has come in within the standards.  It’s been a bit hard to keep up with the fast pace of the corps, but we have done whatever it takes to support their efforts and keep things moving.”     

To read the most up to date info on the Birds Point Levee repairs go to:    

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