City of Cassville takes action on town's flooding issues

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
A bulldozer begins removing large amounts of gravel from Flat Creek by the Highway 248 bridge last week. The city has spent months waiting on disaster relief funds from the July and December floods to begin flood damage mitigation, and recently obtained permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove tons of gravel from the creek beds that was deposited there by floods. The city will do the initial work, then plans to hire a contractor. It is the first time Steve Walensky, public works director for the city, has taken on a project of such a large scope. Julia Kilmer

Walensky: 'We want the water to flow through Cassville, not stop in Cassville'

The city of Cassville is tackling the flooding problem in the city of the seven valleys, starting with the removal of tons of gravel deposited in creek beds after record-breaking flooding was seen in the city last year.

The amount of gravel is so vast and so high, it is almost touching the top of bridges, and almost completely blocking thoroughfares where water would normally flow through.

Steve Walensky, public works director for Cassville, demonstrates just how high the gravel has become in creek beds throughout town. Here, the gravel is several feet high. Walensky said he should not be able to touch the bridge. If the excessive gravel is not removed before spring rains, it could cause creek beds to flood much faster and cause even worse flooding than seen last year. Julia Kilmer

Removing the gravel before spring rains hit is critical, said Steve Walensky, public works director for the city, because just one more deluge of hard rain could quickly breach the creek beds and flood the city, potentially causing worse flooding in the city than seen last year. The biggest concern with the presence of the gravel, he said, is it decreases the capacity for water to flow.

"If there is less creek depth, it's more prone to go outside the banks and flood," Walensky said. "I'm trying to beat the spring rains. The flooding has been so acute lately that we've got to get something done."

It's the first time Walensky is aware that major efforts have been taken by the city to remove gravel from the creek beds, but it has been a long process.

After months of going through the channels trying to obtain proper approval, Walensky obtained permission from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to embark on a comprehensive project to remove gargantuan amounts of gravel and debris from areas of Flat Creek, create catch basins, and hopefully, initiate a chain of events to turn the flooding situation around for good.

Large amounts of gravel, which accumulated from two floods last year, blocks a thoroughfare near Sale Barn Road. If not removed, and soon, before spring rains hit, the creek banks will flood much faster, said Steve Walensky, public works director for the city, potentially causing much worse flooding conditions than seen before. In an effort to resolve the problem, Walensky has been working for months to obtain permission to remove the gravel, and recently did, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The city has begun the initial work, but will be seeking a contractor in the immediate future. Julia Kilmer

To get the ball rolling, Walensky asked a representative from the corps to see for themselves the magnitude of the problem.

Last week, Scott Kelly, regulatory project manager of the Beaver Lake, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District, came to Cassville to survey the situation.

"I showed him the conditions all the creeks and streams were in, asked him what permits I would need, and asked for his judgment on what I should do," Walensky said.

After seeing the creek beds, Kelly said a permit was not required for the type of work that needed to be done, and gave Walensky verbal permission to move forward. The city promptly took action and put city crews to work removing gravel, until a contractor can be hired.

"I'm just ecstatic the Corps of Engineers is willing to work with us and not get us tied up in bureaucracy to let us fix this," Walensky said. "What we're doing is restoring the capacity for water to flow. We will also be digging and creating catch basins on both sides of the bridges, which are large holes that will catch the gravel as it flows through."

Kelly, who operates the Rogers, Ark. field office and is responsible for covering nine counties, said flooding is a natural occurrence.

Accumulated gravel deposited by floods last year is so high in creek beds around town, it must be removed, said Steve Walensky, public works director for the city. Another deluge of hard rain can potentially cause even worse flooding conditions, because the banks will flood even quicker. Here, on the north side of the Highway 248 bridge, gravel is so high, it is nearly touching the bottom of the bridge.

"Waterways naturally dissipate energy and drop out sediment," he said. "These systems are doing what they've been doing for hundreds of thousands of years. The [creek] bed load will also move out such as with 50-or 100-year events that we've been seeing. Rivers naturally get outside the channel and then dissipate energy through flood planes. From the beginning of time, we gravitate toward waterways. The problem is, towns and cities keep building closer to these waterways."

Gravel deposits are common in Ozarks waterways after flooding, Kelly said.

"It's not something we haven't seen before," he said. "Basically, the alluvium, or gravel, is being moved through the systems because of our soil series, and the July and December events contributed significantly to the bed load coming through those systems.

"The Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material within waters of the U.S., and so typical [alluvium] deposits, in these Ozarks systems especially, lend themselves to an excavation practice, especially around culverts and road crossings. If you excavate materials in non-navigable waters, that is considered a non-regulated activity where it pertains to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and also any associated incidental discharge that occurs during the excavation process is considered de minimus, meaning a small amount not subject to jurisdiction."

Flat Creek is clogged with an extensive amount of gravel and debris, which must be removed before spring rains, or worse flooding than seen last year, could occur. Steve Walensky, public works director for the city of Cassville, has been seeking solutions and working with state and federal agencies, for months, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to obtain permission to remove the gravel, and create catch basins to prevent repeated occurrences of gravel deposits, that naturally occur from flooding. Walensky has city crews removing gravel now, but plans to hire a contractor to do the lion's share of the work in the immediate future. Julia Kilmer

Walensky said he has obtained permission from city council and plans to put bids out to begin the process of hiring a contractor.

While he's not sure how much the project will cost at this point, city crews currently working in the creek beds will help determine that.

"This is kind of going to give me a gauge as to what it's going to take," he said. "I've got to determine how many cubic feet of gravel I'm dealing with to determine cost. We are going to bid out the majority of the work," he said. "We're going to propose to augment our team with equipment, staff and disposal of the gravel and debris. Our goal is to finish before the spring rains hit."

Walensky also met with FEMA last week and advised them he'd be requesting funding from both their agency and SEMA.

"I'm going to be asking multiple agencies for support, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the US Army Corps of Engineers and even the National Guard," he said.

Walensky wants residents to know what's happening, and hopes everyone will get on board to resolve the gravel and debris problem, and ultimately, the flooding issues, which affect everyone.

Creek beds adjacent to the city park, such as seen here, are completely clogged with gravel. City crews have begun working in the creek beds to get a head start on removing the gravel, but will be hiring a contractor soon to do the job. Public Works Director Steve Walensky said a project of this scope and size has never been tackled before by the city that he is aware of. Removing the gravel and creating catch basins is just the first step Walensky is taking toward resolving the flooding problems in Cassville. Julia Kilmer

"People are going to see us working in the creeks," he said. "I'm wanting to work with our community leaders and businesses and get them on board to understand what we're trying to do. The citizens need it and the businesses need it. This is important to all our businesses along the creeks. We want the water to flow through Cassville, not stop in Cassville."

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