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City council addresses residents’ concerns over levee repairs

The debate over fixing the Portneuf River levee continued on Monday night as more than 70 Pocatello residents who live along the river attended the city’s public forum.

“I’m not one to point fingers at anyone at this point,” Mayor Brian Blad said. “I just know we have a problem we need to resolve.”

Mayor Blad heard the concerns of some residents who might soon be getting a visit from some city workers as they cut down the numerous trees lining the river, which also happen to be growing in many of their backyards.

“It hurts my heart to see the trees get cut down,” resident Jan Mattingly said. “I might not even watch when they do it.”

Residents such as Mattingly who live along the river also know the city is doing the best they can at trying to figure out a solution to the river before the problem worsens. At the moment, these trees are causing the walls of the levee to crack, while simultaneously pushing the concrete inward, toward each other.

City Street Operations superintendent Randy Ghezzi is heading the levee repairs project and said there are serious repercussions if the proper measures are not taken.

“We then put our citizens at risk, we put the city at risk, and that’s not an option right now,” Ghezzi said.

Along with efforts to comply with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer standards, fixing the levee would also prevent the river from overflowing. This is caused by two major issues.

At the moment, the two problems the city faces in regards to the levee are the overgrown forestry causing damage in the levee walls, and the problem surrounding the relief well flap gates.

“Some of the flap gates inside the relief wells we have found, out of the seven we’ve cleaned, have all been wired shut,” Ghezzi said.

All of the flap gates have been wired shut since the USACE installed them more than four decades ago. This is crucial since those flap gates open-up into the relief wells which need to be accessible for water to pass through and act as an equalizer which prevents flooding. However, there is also currently a buildup of debris inside those wells which restricts the amount of water that can pass, and the city is trying to find a way to effectively clean them out.

According to Ghezzi, the city is looking at an estimated two-to-three year project, and work is scheduled to start during low-flow periods which is expected to be in either July or August of Summer 2013.

But city officials also say nobody is to blame.

For more than 44 years, previous city leaders along with the USACE had ignored the problem. However, with mounting pressure from everybody involved, everyone is trying to work together with to make sure the work just gets done before any serious damage is done.

Follow Kaitlin on Twitter: @KaitlinLoukides

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