TULSA, Okla. — Long-awaited plans to upgrade levees in Tulsa are moving forward, thanks to a federal and local push to pay for the Tulsa-West Tulsa Levees Project.
Funding comes from the Infrastructure Bill which has been enacted.
Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith, who has been involved with the project since 2009, said she expects work to begin in the spring of 2023.
“We know the dykes barely survived 2019,” Keith said, “I don’t want to test it again.”
Keith won’t have to, following U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe’s recent announcement that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide full $137 million in funding for the Tulsa-West Tulsa Levees project.
Keith says the Tulsa levees were tested in 2019 when the watershed was completely flooded, after massive amounts of rain forced the water to come out of the dam, which in turn forced a heavy load of water in the Arkansas River, filling the levee at West 65th Avenue and Charles Page Boulevard and causing leaks.
The long-awaited project should bring peace of mind to traders and owners who live near the dykes:
“They don’t have to suffer every time it rains,” Keith said, “or worry about what’s going to happen to the levee.”
Dawn Rice, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project manager for the Tulsa-West Tulsa Levees project, said work would begin by taking steps to ensure the levee stays in place.
“We’re going to put a wall in the ground that prevents fine soils from coming out into the channel,” Rice said.
Then the US Army Corps of Engineers will add what is called a filter blanket, using different grades of rock to make the levee more durable.
Following the leak in 2019, Rice says repairs in 2020 were made to the embankment by adding dirt and rock, paid for by emergency funds. The wall was also reinforced.
Rice says the work will be assessed to ensure it’s sufficient for a permanent solution.
“We’re going to assess that,” Rice said, “to see if anything more needs to be done there and we’ll also look at the possibility of anchoring the spillway below.”
Dana Weber, CEO of Webco Industries, a local company that makes specialty steel tubing, shared photos of a site that suffered flooding in 2019, even with the seawall.
“It almost didn’t hold up a couple of times,” Weber noted, “it really needs an update.”
Owner Don Comstock, who lives near the levees, says in 2019 being asked to evacuate was scary.
“I live in the house I grew up in,” Comstock explained, “I’ve never had to put sand in my house before.”
Comstock says the plan to permanently overhaul the entire levee system is good news, especially for those whose homes are very close to the levee.
“I’m especially happy for the people closer to the levee that you know,” he said, “because those people love their homes here.”
While the project cost will be covered by the US Army Corps of Engineers for now, 35% of the project cost will eventually need to be reimbursed.
“I think the city and the county will both put money into it,” Keith said, “and then hopefully the assessment along the levees can help repay those funds for the next 30 years.”
Weber says she’s okay with paying the appraisal fee.
“It’s much better than losing our business,” she said.
The complete overhaul of the levees in Tulsa is expected to take five to six years.
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