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Engineers: 122 Levees at Risk of Failing

By BEVERLEY LUMPKIN
The Associated Press
Thursday, February 1, 2007; 11:05 PM

WASHINGTON -- One hundred twenty-two levees from Maryland to California are at risk of failing, according to a list released Thursday by the Army Corps of Engineers.

There could be danger to people who live in communities near some of the levees as well as a chance that they will have to pay more for insurance, said Butch Kinerney of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's national flood insurance program.

The list was released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by news organizations, including The Associated Press.

If the Corps of Engineers determines a levee to be at risk of failing, homeowners in the area could be required to purchase flood insurance, though exceptions can be made.

Communities near the levees have been notified that they have received an "unacceptable maintenance inspection rating." That means a levee has one or more problems, which can include movement of floodwalls, faulty culverts, animal burrows, erosion or tree growth, according to a statement released by the Corps.

California, with 37 suspect levees, and Washington state, with 19, led the list.

FEMA's Kinerney said he was concerned that the levees present not only a chance of higher insurance costs but a danger to those living nearby. FEMA maps flood plains and helps determine the flood risks that communities face.

Kinerney said people living near the levees should have an evacuation plan, a family emergency plan, and a disaster supply kit, along with flood insurance.

The Corps has been warning communities they need to take care of routine levee maintenance, said Larry Larson, director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers. Larson said he was glad the Corps was putting out the word on the levees.

"The feds are saying, 'Wait a minute, we haven't been doing our job,'" Larson said. "'We better get on top of this. Your people are at risk. You need to get something done.'"

The Corps historically has constructed the levees and has turned most of them over to local communities for operations and maintenance. Some communities may not have kept up with needed repairs, while others may merely lack the documentation, Kinerney said.

As the Corps decertifies the adequacy of a particular levee, it also notifies FEMA, which can take away the credit communities get on their flood insurance rate for having a levee.

Kinerney added that if residents of the communities at risk were to purchase flood insurance now, before the community's designation changes, they can still pay the cheaper rate.

The Corps can give communities 12 months to make corrections _ sometimes it's just a matter of "filling gopher holes," Kinerney said.

Also, FEMA can issue for up to 24 months a provisional accreditation if a community requests it, giving it up to two years to correct the problems or contest the finding that the levee is not sound. During that period, residents are not required to purchase flood insurance.

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On the Net:

The list: http://www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/releases/leveelist.pdf

© 2007 The Associated Press