Fairfax Drainage District Floodwall Needs Upgrades, But Money Tight
June 10, 2011
The Fairfax Drainage District in Kansas City, Kan., is home to more than 100 businesses, including factories that make fiberglass, Cheez-Its and the Chevy Malibu.
Bordering it is the swelling Missouri River.
And separating the two is a concrete floodwall that federal engineers think might collapse if flooding gets too high — potentially putting thousands of jobs under water.
Currently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers predicts the wall will be safe when floodwaters start arriving in a little over a week, as long as areas upstream don’t see unexpected amounts of rain. The wall, built in the 1940s, survived 1993 flood levels, which came roughly 3 feet from its top.
But in recent years the Corps has discovered a design flaw, making its reinforcement a priority.
“It’s still very strong, but to have a reliability that’s acceptable to current design standards, we need to reinforce that floodwall foundation,” John J. Grothaus, chief of plan formulation for the Corps’ Kansas City office, said Friday.
Just one problem: Fixing the wall is expected to cost $10 million, and the Army Corps currently has only $500,000 in next year’s expected budget to do it.
It’s the kind of funding need that could be filled by an “earmark” — targeted spending from Congress that helps businesses and government agencies hop over the red tape typically involved with federal budgeting.
But Congress banned earmarks earlier this session after widespread complaints of wasteful spending.
Barring a change in policy, that means the Army Corps will have to wrestle with a shrinking federal budget to find the money to fix the Fairfax floodwall — which might not happen until 2013 at the earliest, Grothaus said.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican who toured the levee Friday morning and sits on the Senate’s appropriations committee, said he supported an upgrade and hoped for a relaxation in the earmark ban that would allow the Corps to receive funds for infrastructure needs.
“This would clearly qualify for help,” Moran said. He said more money could also be given to the entire agency.
Grothaus said there were several other projects along the Missouri River that needed similar overhauls.