Santa Maria River levee improvement project groundbreaking
Officials from Santa Barbara County and the City of Santa Maria join Col. Thomas H. Magness, District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District (center left) and U.S. Rep. Lois Capps (center right) for a groundbreaking ceremony at the Santa Maria Levee Project Oct. 19. The $40 million Corps of Engineers project, the largest Recovery Act project to date in Santa Barbara County, will strengthen nearly seven miles of the levee.

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - U.S. Rep. Lois Capps joined officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County for a groundbreaking celebration to mark the beginning of the Santa Maria River Levee Improvement project.

"This levee behind me protects 17,000 to 20,000 homes in the city of Santa Maria," said Mayor Larry Lavagnino. "We're talking about protection for a lot of people."

The $40 million project, the largest project to date in Santa Barbara County under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will strengthen nearly seven miles of the levee, from Blosser Street to the Bradley Canyon Levee east of the city's landfill.

Capps led the effort in Washington to obtain the federal funding and stimulus money to pay for the levee repair project.

"This project was in the right place at the right time," she said. "Because of the need for recovery and investment, the stimulus funds were able to jump-start and shorten the time frame and we have this example of this project, shovel-ready, as you see today."

An analysis of the Santa Maria River levee system in 1996 concluded that the current levee system, in particular the rock revetment, did not meet the original design criteria at certain locations, or current rip rap protection criteria at many locations. During a recent national levee inventory, the levee was rated "poor." FEMA subsequently drafted a revised flood map that now includes most properties in Santa Maria.

"As we complete each phase of this project, we will be turning over information to the county and the city, making that documentation available to FEMA," said Col. Thomas Magness, district commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District, the lead federal agency on the improvement project. "FEMA then can begin to address the implications with regard to the flood mapping and the insurance requirements."

The repairs will strengthen an approximately 6.5-mile reach of the existing south levee, reinforcing it with an 8-foot thick soil-cement mixture to address the deficiencies and reduce the risk to life and property.

The project will be executed in two phases. A $10 million contract for Phase 1 was awarded to the HUBZone small business Rodney Williams Construction Company, based in Lompoc, Calif., which expects to put local people to work and begin in November. Phase 1 consists of repairs to 3.2 miles of the levee. The contract for Phase 2 is is expected to be awarded in February, for repairs to an additional 3.3 miles of the levee. The project is expected to be completed by 2011.

"The 100-percent guarantee that I will provide is that the Corps of Engineers will design and construct it to standard," Magness said. "But that standard still leaves a residual risk when that project is completed, and everyone who lives behind a levee should understand there is a risk."

Santa Barbara County officials estimate the Santa Maria River levee repair project will generate more than 800 jobs and pump more than $120 million into the local economy.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16