Local officials are being encouraged to “work with” ATV riders in their recreational use of the local flood control levee system, but they were also warned that if damage to the levees continues unabated, it could end up costing many local residents — and costing them a lot, whether they enjoy ATV riding or not.
Army Corps of Engineers Levee Safety Program Manager Jim Martell, from the Tulsa, Okla. district office, met with the Great Bend City Council Monday night, explaining recent inspections of the local flood control system has turned up significant damage cause by the recreational use of the area — an activity that is carried out in violation of federal regulations.
It is against the law to ride all terrain vehicles and other vehicles on the levees, unless there is an established and paved area to cross the levee to get from one public area to another.
However that is not what the local inspections have turned up, Martell reported.
He noted that there have been continuing problems locally with fences being cut, ruts being driven into the levees, damage done to the tops of the levees and even areas where protecting cement block — “riprap” — has been dislodged during recreational use.
And that illegal use has also led to damage to the levees.
Martell noted that there are areas where erosion is starting to cause damage, where water has taken up the damage that began with the vehicular traffic.
Currently, the local system continues to meet the regulations to receive federal funding, in the event of a major repair being needed in response to a local weather event. But that status could be threatened if damage is not curtailed.
“The last rating for the Great Bend levee was ‘marginally acceptable,’” Martell reported.
While that is a common rating for levee systems where there is public incursion, it shows that there are challenges that need to be addressed. If it’s not, continued damage to the levee system could lead to the community losing its current relationship with the federal system, and that could lead to anyone who has a federally-insured mortgage being forced to purchase expensive flood insurance on their property.
Even though the community has not raced major flooding in recent years, it has still benefitted from the federal funding of repairs to the flood control system, Martell explained. He noted that in 2007, high water damage where the Arkansas River cut into part of the local levee required repairs. Those were carried out with the federal system covering 100 percent of the $331,000.
And in 2009, water damage to the levee system near the K-96 bridge was repaired and that was completely covered with federal funds, too.
The council will consider a paved crossing that could help get ATVs from public areas outside the levee system to the river bottom, which is public recreation.
Officials are also researching a fine program to prosecute any continued trespassing problems on the levee system.
The issue will return to the council later, it was noted.