Missoula County, Army Corps agree on $1M repairs to flood-damaged levee

Jess Jordan, the Clark Fork flood lead with the Army Corps of Engineers, left, and Missoula County Sheriff T.J. McDermott, right, keep a watch on the rising waters before weighing additional evacuation orders back in May. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

While the spring floods that inundated portions of the Missoula Valley have been replaced with winter’s freeze, county commissioners continue to deal with the aftermath, from levee repairs to the funding needed to pay for it.

On Tuesday, Missoula County commissioners signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rehabilitate the Orchard Home levee, which sustained damage during a high and early spring runoff.

The project’s total cost carries a price tag estimated at $1 million, and the county must provide nearly $200,000 in matching funds, or roughly 20 percent of the total.

“When the levee gets damaged while it’s in the (certified levees) program, there’s a cost share to rehabilitate and make repairs due to damage,” said Greg Robertson, the county’s director of public works. “This past flood season, the levy received an estimated $1 million of damage from the high water, primary scour and loss of toe rock – the structural section of the levee.”

High water flooded areas of Orchard Homes in May, prompting the evacuation of roughly 60 residences over a prolonged period. The coursing water eroded portions of the levee, prompting needed repairs before the next runoff arrives.

Robertson said the Army Corps plans to conduct the work in March or April. The county’s share of the cost won’t likely exceed $193,000, a portion of which could be paid with in-kind contributions.

“That doesn’t preclude the county from doing some of the work,” Robertson said. “However, most of the repairs are on the river side, and it’s probably best to allow the Corps to do that. They have certain peremptory rights we wouldn’t.”

While the county eyes levee repairs ahead of spring, it’s also looking for a long-term solution to what most now agree is a recurring problem. It has asked the Army Corps to help develop a range of solutions with both structural and nonstructural options to stand against future floods.

“This seems like a prudent next step,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “I heard at some of the public meetings at Orchard Homes last year, loud and clear, that folks wanted some sort of a plan. I think they were hinting at both structural and nonstructural options.”

In a letter to the Army Corps, signed Tuesday by commissioners, Robertson noted that the Clark Fork River has risen above flood stage several times in the last decade, and each time, “the depth and period of inundation has increased.”

Areas once outside the mapped floodplain are now often under water, and “the outlook will continue to worsen.”

“They (Orchard Homes) are the unlucky beneficiary of changed river conditions and it’s going to continue that way,” Robertson said. “The good thing about doing a study is it makes you eligible for other funding sources. Once you have the overall plan that’s been agreed to by all parties and that’s permittable, it opens up other opportunities funding wise to pay for this.”