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Dike plan must wait

By LAURA McVICKER, Herald and News, August 14, 2006

A comprehensive plan for Klamath County dikes will have to wait in line behind other emergency preparedness efforts, local officials say.

Emergency exercises dealing with weapons of mass destruction and a hypothetical Gerber Dam failure are planned in the next few months, sidelining a project aimed at assembling a database of levees and dikes in the county, said Klamath County emergency manager Bill Thompson.

Following a June 15 meeting, emergency officials along with U.S. Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation officials formed a dike task force and planned to create a comprehensive database of dikes.

Gerber dam exercise

But in November, attention will turn to a Gerber Dam-failure exercise, involving the Bureau of Reclamation and the sheriff's office in addition to emergency services. The exercise will address how to handle a dam failure, which Thompson deems a greater risk than another dike break.

“Levees are important, but we have bigger ones right under our windshield,” Thompson said.

In September, local law enforcement officials will join emergency services for a federally mandated exercise dealing with weapons of mass destruction.

Dike task force

The intent of the June 15 meeting and the task force was to find and inspect levees and dikes, Thompson said. From there, the group plans to make recommendations to owners and others responsible for dike maintenance.

They haven't set their next meeting yet, nor have the Corps of Engineers been in Klamath County since leaving June 16. But a Corps spokeswoman said officials are assessing who is eligible for the Corps' inspection program.

Dike owners who are included in special taxing districts or associations organized for dike maintenance can qualify for the inspections. No dike owners or others responsible for dike maintenance requested federal inspection before the June 15 meeting. So far, members of the Lakeshore Garden Drainage Association - residents who are in charge of a levee on Lakeshore Drive - have been the only owners who have requested federal inspection.

Ironically, the June 15 meeting - set back in March - came a week after waters poured through a 200-foot gap in the broken dike, flooding 2,000 acres of farmland and closing a portion of Highway 140 for days. It also caused millions of dollars in damage.

Dike maintenance

Questions then emerged as to who is in charge of inspecting dikes. County commissioners have said they don't have jurisdiction over the maintenance of dikes.

Emergency services are in charge of disaster preparedness, but aren't managers of dikes.

The sheriff's office only steps in where there's a public safety risk.

Records of owners of land adjacent to and dependent on dikes are available from the Bureau of Reclamation, yet officials say there are no records of who is responsible for maintenance.


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