Repairs to the Lollie Levee following the near breach during the historic 2019 Arkansas River Flood should be complete by the end of 2020.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers civil engineers Elmo Webb and Jonathan Palmer spoke to the Local Emergency Planning Committee on Wednesday about what caused the near breach and gave an approximate timeline for when repairs to the Faulkner County Levee, known locally as the Lollie Levee, would begin.
While the Lollie Levee “is one of the better levees in the state,” Webb said it nearly breached after a smaller, private levee (the Little Levee) that connects to the Lollie Levee breached during the May 2019 flooding event.
The Little Levee is built at a lower elevation from the Lollie Levee “and it breached right in the area where the two come together,” Webb said.
The concentrated flow of water rushing through the breached zone on the Little Levee began attacking the Lollie Levee during the major flooding event last year.
“Luckily, all this started happening when the water started receding,” Webb said.
A fallen tree along the Little Levee also posed a threat to the Lollie Levee, Palmer said.
The civil engineer told the emergency planning group that after the tree along the intersecting portion of the two levees collapsed, it created a means for the water flow to pick up speed and further deteriorate the integrity of the Lollie Levee.
“When a void like that happened and the tree had fallen over, it created an opening and the flow and velocity picked up,” Palmer said. “There was more water coming through there, and water was being pointed toward the main levee because of the angle the tree fell.”
After the flood waters subsided, the Army Corps of engineers constructed a temporary dam at the levee, putting a Band-Aid fix to the levee threat.
Nearly one year later, Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management Director Shelia Bellott questioned the two civil engineers on the timeline regarding a permanent fix in Faulkner County.
The temporary dam constructed last year was not built to the original levee’s height, Webb said. However, it does feature “a big stone pile” that will help prevent erosion during high-water events.
As the Corps of Engineers complete the engineering and design phase of the repair project, it has also conducted topographical surveys to begin working toward warding a construction contract.
Because a setback levee has already been constructed in the area, Palmer said the Corps of Engineers said “we’re ahead of the game” and that the project should be bid to a contractor before June.
“When we built that setback levee because there was a forecasted high-water event that would have come through the near-breached area of the levee … it allowed us to get a right of entry for construction to build that levee. That gave us permission from the landowners to be on the property,” Palmer said.
Having the landowners’ permission to be in the area to make repairs is what sets this particular project ahead of schedule, he said, adding that he expects repairs to be completed under four months once a contractor is onsite.
Regarding the aid the Corps of Engineers provided local OEM and other emergency responders during the flooding event, Bellott thanked the two civil engineers.
During the historic flooding event, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded to Faulkner County and provided sandbags to control flooding and also gave technical advice to emergency crews.
“The technical advice pertaining to sand boils was critical to us,” she said. “Another thing that was beneficial was the inundation maps that we received from the corps to prepare for possible mandatory evacuation.”
Using the maps, FCOEM staff were able to prepare possible evacuation routes in the event the levee breached during the 2019 flood.
The Arkansas Levee Task Force earlier this month issued its final report to Gov. Asa Hutchinson regarding its recommendations for levee repairs across the state.
The task force set out to address current Arkansas levee conditions, identify repair and maintenance needs, study the prospective monitoring and reporting of systems for the maintenance of levees and review current laws pertaining to the levee system as well s the organization structures of levee district boards.
The Arkansas Levee Task Force found it was necessary to begin to inventory all river systems across the state, not just the Arkansas River and also recommended considering the consolidation of various levee districts. It would be beneficial to consolidate districts that depend upon one another, according to the task force’s findings.
Among other recommendations, the task force determined “that if financial assistance were provided by the state, it should be used to incentivize districts to enter the RIP and maintain long-term active status.”
Levee districts should also have maintenance schedules and build a reserve fund for emergency situations, according to the recommendations sent by the task force to Gov. Hutchinson.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.