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September 17, 2019

Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee Feasibility Study Released, Public Comment Period Begins

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Tulsa-West Tulsa Levees Integrated Feasibly Study Report and Environmental Assessment was released on September 16, 2019, for a 33-day comment period. It evaluated various alternatives to upgrade and modernize the "very high risk" Tulsa-West Tulsa levees, which are at risk of failure due to overtopping and inadequately controlled under-seepage and through seepage, the effects of which were evident during the 2019 flooding. The tentatively selected plan is estimated to cost $150-$200 million for construction, and includes the following specific improvements:

  • 13 miles of a filtered berm with toe drain
  • Filtered floodway structure
  • Two detention ponds
  • Reconstruction of 7 pumps stations for system-wide effectiveness
  • Environmental mitigation as applicable and appropriate.

“The public release of the draft tentatively selected plan report is the next key step to modernizing the Tulsa-West Tulsa levees," Sen. Inhofe said. "By releasing the draft report ahead of the budget process for the next fiscal year, we can continue to stay ahead of schedule for modernizing and upgrading the levees. The opportunity for public comment is especially important given the terrible flooding Oklahoma experienced earlier this year. The draft report outlines the costs and resources necessary to protect the people and property of Tulsa-area communities so we can budget appropriately during the next federal budget cycle. I appreciate the continuous engagement by our state and local partners who are committed to working with us to make sure the Tulsa levees are modernized and will continue to protect homes, businesses and infrastructure, as they have for the past 70 years."

“We are so pleased that the project is right on schedule and that we are progressing as quickly as possible to begin improving the levee system,” said Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners Chair, Karen Keith. “We encourage the public to review the document, attend the public meeting, and provide their comments.”

“This is a great next step to reduce the risk for the community that sits behind the levee,” said Todd Kilpatrick, District 12 Levee Commissioner. “We are one step closer to shovels in the ground and implementing this work. It’s a great plan—one we have to make sure is implemented.”

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers welcomes the public’s feedback on the report,” said Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager, Bryan Taylor. “It is critical that the public review this. We want them to be fully aware of what we have planned for the levee system.”

The public is invited to review and comment on the report through October 18, 2019. A public meeting is scheduled for October 8, 2019, at 5:30pm at the Case Community Center in Sand Springs. The report is available in several locations and formats:

  • Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District website at www.swt.usace.army.mil/ under the Corps Studies area
  • Army Corps of Engineers Tulsa District Office, Public Affairs Office, 2488 East 81st St., Tulsa
  • Charles Page Library, 551 East 45th St., Sand Springs

Written public comments can be submitted through email to TWT-Levees@usace.army.mil  and at the public workshop.

Key Background:

While recent flooding made need to modernize the levees even more important, Sen. Inhofe has been working for years on the process to get critical improvements:

On December 9, 2016, the Senate authored S. 612, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which passed with a strong bipartisan vote of 78-21 and included a number of provisions integral to Oklahoma. Sen. Inhofe included a provision in the WIIN Act that required the Corps to complete the feasibility study after inspections revealed that the Tulsa levees, originally built in the 1940s, were not compliant with federal standards.

On March 1, 2017, Sen. Inhofe questioned General Semonite at an EPW hearing on the Tulsa levees, saying in part:

Senator Inhofe: General Semonite, in my hometown of Tulsa we have nearly 20 miles of levee, a system that was built by the Corps of Engineers back in the 1940s. We have about 10,000 people living within that. We have $2 billion of infrastructure, including a refinery, a very large refinery. Seventy years old, they are desperate and in need of repair and upgrades. Congress authorized a feasibility study and expedited budget consideration in last year’s WIIN Act. That was our effort. With the risk assessment taking over a year longer than promised, Tulsa is concerned about more delays in the lack of 46 the Corps prioritizing the project. It is my hope that we can get this done. Now, I am sure that you looked at that before, in preparing for this hearing. Our concern is these are old and there is not a week that goes by when I am back that this isn’t called to my attention. What kind of a commitment can you make that we are going to get this thing started?

General Semonite: Thanks, Senator. You bring up a good point. When you talk about levees, I think right now we have about 15,000 miles of levees that we constructed, but the Corps actually only has about 2,500 of those that we actually maintain. So we have to be able to continue to reach out to find out what can we do to assist. Several people here have talked about everybody has to pull their share to be able to work side-by-side. On this particular one, this goes back to that flood risk management study and to be able to make sure that we can review this, get this thing done, and understand how we are going to be able to come through on that. I don’t know exactly the details of where we are at on that, and I would like to have my staff come back to you on it.

Senator Inhofe: It would be a good idea. And I would like to ask that you personally look at this because it is something that should not have gone this long and it is critical.

On November 9, 2017, Sens. Inhofe and Lankford sent letters to OMB Director Mick MulvaneyDeputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Douglas W. Lamont and Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite requesting that the Tulsa and West Tulsa Levee System feasibility study be prioritized in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers FY18 Work Plan and included as a new start in the FY 2019 budget request.

On December 6, 2017, Sen. Inhofe questioned R.D. James on the Tulsa levees during his confirmation hearing to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, saying in part:

Senator Inhofe: I have one thing I want to actually specifically talk about, because it is probably my greatest single frustration with the Corps. The cities of Sand Springs, Oklahoma and Tulsa, Oklahoma are protected by a levee system that was built in the 1940s, and the infrastructure is beyond its useful life. The system is in desperate need of repair and protects $2.2 billion in homes and business infrastructure along the Arkansas River, including two large refineries. Tulsa citizens have provided $15 million in funding for the project, but were stalled in moving forward because the feasibility study needs a new start. I have it on good authority that the project was on the Corps’ list to receive one of the six new starts that Congress appropriated last fiscal year, but, in the end, only one new start was awarded. So, the commitment I want to extract from you is that you will commit to ensure that this project remains a priority for the Corps as Congress finalizes their fiscal year 2018 appropriations to include new starts for studies. Can I get that?

Mr. James: Yes, sir, absolutely you will get it from me. If it was one of the proposed six this past year, I can’t see any reason that it wouldn’t remain on that list. It will become a priority to me. And another priority to me will be the shape our infrastructure is in in this Country. Why are we limiting ourselves to six new starts proposed and one new start accepted? That is bothering me. Senator Inhofe. Well, that bothers me too, and I appreciate that.

In February of 2018, Sen. Inhofe spoke with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney to highlight the need for Tulsa-West Tulsa levees modernization to advance, given the fact the levees were classified as “high risk” by the Army Corps of Engineers.

On July 5, 2018, Inhofe announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted his request to fully fund the Tulsa-West Tulsa levees project through supplemental appropriations for disaster relief and recovery funding. By including the feasibility study in the emergency supplemental, the Tulsa levees project can actually move forward faster than if it had been included in the annual work plan.

On Jun 27, 2019, Inhofe, Lankford and Hern wrote a letter to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete feasibility study for the Tulsa-West Tulsa levees by the end of this year. The feasibility study is the next key step to modernizing the aging levee system. The members also request the immediate implementation of critical improvements following the conclusion of the study.



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