The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers let contracts to repair two major breaches in Missouri River levees in late October, but it will be February before contracts go out for work with a four-month completion estimate on eight other jobs in higher life-safety risk areas.
That means the jobs would be difficult to finish by March 1, the average date for Great Plains snowmelt to start showing up in the river along which more than 500 miles of levees need repair.
The Corps said on Jan. 30 that contracts for levees in Rockport, Mo.; Bellevue, Neb.; Omaha, Neb.; and continuation work on two jobs under way in Council Bluffs, Iowa — all in the higher-risk group and four months to complete — were expected to go out that week.
Three other jobs—near Nebraska City and in Peru, Neb., and Bartlett, Iowa—were “approaching the award phase,” but there was no time on contracts, according to Kevin Wingert, a Corps spokesman.
Other projects have estimated completion times of one, two or three months. While the Corps declared the flood over in October, money is the main reason the repairs weren't started: Full funding for repairs was not approved until Dec. 23, said Brett Budd, chief of the Omaha District’s system restoration team.
The funds, under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, will allow the Corps to repair or rebuild levees to their same level before the massive flooding in 2010.
The process also was slowed by the need to determine the scope of work for each area, secure easements for levee access and obtain land for setback levee construction, among other issues, Corps officials said.
“Once we got full funds, it’s been full-on,” Budd said. “We anticipate [being] ready to have water hit them on March 1,” he said, speaking of the levees.
The Corps has said the damage to levees and dams would cost at least $630 million to repair. Its list of 89 projects, on both federal and non-federal levees, has 45 of them in the higher-risk classification.
Two sites of the worst damage—at levees L575 near Hamburg, Iowa, and L550, near Rockport, Mo.—will be repaired by the March 1 flood-season start, said Dan Brenneke, project manager for Weston Solutions Inc., West Chester, Pa. Weston has the $9.6-million contract to repair five breaches—three in L575 and two in L550. Brenneke worked on a Corps job in the area last year, repairing damage from 2010 flooding. “What’s different about this job is the sense of urgency, so we’re working seven days, 10, 12, 14 hours a day,” he said.
That pace can wear out workers, so the company has its employees on a three-week rotation, sending them home for a long weekend, he said. Subcontractors have different policies. Workers in the field currently are there 12 hours a day; since they start work each day before sunup and finish after sundown, they use light plants.
Weston is building setback levees anywhere from 100 ft to 300 ft from the riverbank. Two of the setback levees are 6,500 linear ft; the others are 6,400 ft, 4,400 ft and 4,200 ft. All are 20 ft wide at the top and have a 3-1 slope on the riverside and a 5-1 slope on the landside, Brenneke said.
Crews started working in early December on three sites and added the other two later, so work can progress in order and equipment moved from area to area, he said. One challenge was been the water, which was on the fields until mid-October, he said.
The Corps’ design and project engineers are working with Weston’s project engineers as the templates and design memoranda are developed, he said.
That makes communication key to the job, he said, adding that daily meetings with the Corps have now slowed to twice weekly.
The relatively mild winter has eased concerns about working with frozen materials when laying the 8-in. clay lifts as crews build up 5-ft. veneers on the riverside and 2-ft veneers on the landside of the levee, he said.
While some of the borrow dirt has come from the old levees that are being replaced, the rest is available in the area.
The job will take 900,000 cu yd of sand, 750,000 cu yd of clay, one million cu yd of random fill for the levee core and 220,000 cu yd of topsoil. All that will be seeded to hold it in place.
Weston has hired six local subcontractors, about 30 other local workers through the subcontractors and another 40 individuals to operate equipment.
The equipment inventory includes 150 pieces, ranging from tractor/scrapers to articulated dump trucks that can hold 30 to 40 tons, D-6 and D-9 Caterpillar dozers, excavators, box scrapers, land levelers and maintainers, he said.
Another major job currently under way is on L624-627 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the 28th Street and Veterans Memorial Bridge pump stations must be demolished, removed and replaced. The $17-million job was awarded on Dec. 22 to Bristol Construction Services LLC, Anchorage, Alaska.
The pump stations are part of the levee and essential to moving water from the landside to the riverside, said Tim Gouger, Missouri River levees program manager.
There are seven other repair sites due for repairs in that area, he said.