News Stories

Low-visibility Inspection of Completed Works program suddenly in the spotlight

Published Feb. 14, 2007

Just as the events 9/11/2001 had long term effects on attitudes toward security throughout the nation, the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have had long term effects on our vigilance about flood control structures.

   Wilmington District, historically in the eye of hurricanes, has a good track record for keeping close watch on flood control structures. For many years our District Dam Safety Program enjoyed the leadership of now-retired Boyd Alig. Today, Don Smith, of our Geotech section, is the Regional Engineering Center Dam Safety Coordinator, and Ann Hinds, also of Geotech, is the Wilmington District Dam Safety Coordinator. Together, they lead the vital program to monitor condition and structural integrity of our five major flood control structures: John H. Kerr Dam, Philpott Dam, Falls Dam, B. Everett Jordan Dam, and W. Kerr Scott Dam. The structures are monitored year in and year out, and the District Dam Safety Committee meets regularly to stay current with all conditions at our dams.

   Beyond those obvious behemoths on the North Carolina and Virginia landscapes, the Wilmington District also has oversight of a significant number of other flood control structures.  Some of these were actually built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or with our assistance. However, nearly all are owned by county or municipal governments, who are charged with maintaining them so that they will continue to offer the flood protection their designers intended.

   Provided these projects are properly maintained and able to perform the jobs they were built to do, they stay eligible to receive public funds to complete repairs to the original standard under Public Law 84-99, should they be damaged by flooding. In turn, property protected by such a facility enjoys a reduced rate for flood insurance, provided the facility gets a ‘passing’ grade.

   That’s where our District comes into the picture. The people who serve on the ‘Inspection of Completed Works’ team regularly inspect the 36 active facilities we have under our purview. They report any deficiencies to the project sponsors, who are expected to repair them in timely fashion. The program, formerly carried out by our Emergency Operations staff, now is conducted under the leadership of our Geotech Section Chief, Greg Griffith and his team, with assistance from Carl Smalley, of Emergency Operations.

   “We feel that the combination of structural and geotechnical expertise on Greg’s team, and the connection to county and municipal emergency managers on my team offers the best skills to make sure we support communities in caring for these important facilities,” said Emergency Operations Manager Ron Stirrat.

   Wilmington District’s most famous ‘completed work’ is probably the Princeville Dike, a sizeable levee built to protect the historic town of Princeville, N.C., from the ravages of the Tar River. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd so overwhelmed the Tar that the dike was breached near a railroad cut, the town was inundated, and many homes and businesses were flooded. Since then, Public Law 84-99 funds have been used to restore the dike, and a better closure for the gap at the railroad cut has been designed and put in place. Edgecombe County is responsible for maintaining the dike.

   Other notable works include the Deep Creek levee at the tiny town of Speed, North Carolina, which also was affected by Hurricane Floyd, and levees built to protect municipal wastewater treatment plants in Danville and Roanoke Virginia and Clinton, N.C. The Ararat Levee and flood wall protects part of the city of Mount Airy, N.C. Still other levees, some in less than perfect condition, were built to protect croplands.

   What causes these structures to deteriorate? “The problems can be anything from invasion by tree roots, that provide a path for water to undermine the levee, to actual breaches in a levee caused by activities like logging, or inappropriate loading of material stored against flood walls,” ICW program manager Greg Griffith said.

   Of some of the flood control works that no longer provide the intended protection, Griffith said: “Our responsibility is to make it known to the sponsoring county or town that the structure will not function as intended. Then it becomes a local decision: is it worth spending the public funds required to return the project to its full function? In some cases, obviously those where life and property are no longer a significant risk factor, and repair costs are high, it may not be worth it to the local government to restore the structure.”

   Of course such a decision can have the unpleasant effect of rendering formerly protected areas more flood-prone and far less insurable. That’s why Corps Headquarters has made a decision to give sponsoring counties and communities a year to complete repairs before declaring levee and flood wall projects rated unsatisfactory in 2006 as “inactive.” And that’s why levees and other structures have been in the national news.

   National attention recently focused on the little – known structures because the Corps’ nationwide intensification of inspections and reporting of deficiencies has become more widely known and scrutinized. In January of 2007, USA Today newspaper published a listing of 146 levees and other flood control structures nationwide deemed by Corps inspectors to be in some way deficient, and to put property and even lives at risk of flooding.

   One of these 146 facilities is a levee protecting the Waste Water Treatment Plant for the City of Roanoke, Virginia, and falls under the jurisdiction of the Wilmington District Inspection of Completed Works program.  

   “We expect the deficiencies at this site to be resolved within the year the Corps Director of Civil works has granted as a grace period,” Griffith said. “The City of Roanoke and the Western Virginia Water Authority incurred the deficiency rating because they are in the process of increasing the level of flood protection for the facility. Their construction project has temporarily compromised the integrity of the original structure, but we expect it to be back on the list of facilities in good standing when the improvement project is completed later in 2007.”