Engineers, emergency workers and politicians toured Cataldo’s damaged dike Thursday as the Army Corps of Engineers began deciding how to fix the flood barrier and how much money to spend.
The visit by five engineers was a good sign for county officials and flood workers who have been fearful that repairs would come too late to prevent flooding this fall.
After months of limbo, the corps said it will recommend within three weeks what repairs will be made to the dikes at Cataldo and St. Maries.
“The corps got a real good view of our concerns,” said Bill Schwartz, director of Kootenai County Disaster Services. “I think they left here a little more knowledgeable of the situation than when they came.”
Despite the renewed optimism, Kootenai County officials hold little hope that they will get as much money for repairs as they originally had requested.
The Panhandle Area Council applied for a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to fix and add 3 feet to the top of the Cataldo dike.
St. Maries is asking for between $3 million and $8.5 million to repair its dike, said Al Ames, the EDA representative for Idaho.
“I think they shot a little on the high side,” said Paul Komoroske, the corps’ chief of emergency management in Seattle. His rough estimates before the Thursday visit were more like $200,000 for Cataldo repairs and $1 million for St. Maries, he said.
“There is little doubt that the corps holds the trump card,” Schwartz said. “Their judgment is very clearly going to dictate what is going to happen.”
The situation is this: Cataldo has been flooded three times in recent years. Now, the dike that protects this burg nestled next to Interstate 90 has become weakened and leaky.
Schwartz fears that more flooding this fall could cause the dike to collapse, devastating the city and possibly taking out the interstate.
Much the same situation - if not worse - exists in St. Maries.
An $18 million flood-relief package was pushed through Congress in April. But only about $6.5 million is available for dike repairs - and that money has to be split among all the Northwest states, Ames said.
Repair money has been requested for both Cataldo and St. Maries. But as the request languished in federal red tape, residents feared the money would not come in time for the next flooding season.
But on Thursday, the engineers arrived in Cataldo to survey the dike and talk to community representatives about repairs. They will tour the St. Maries dike today.
The engineers, who came from Seattle, will use what they find during their visits to prepare a recommendation on what should be done to fix the dikes and how much money should be spent, Komoroske said.
The Economic Development Agency will make the final decision.
Several suggestions were offered to the engineers during Thursday’s meeting, Schwartz said.
Among them: putting a clay material against the existing dike, raising and sealing the north section of the dike, installing a ring dike around leaking areas, removing sections of the old dike and replacing it with new materials and installing a flood gate near the interstate.
“We were trying to impress upon the corps how important that it was they view this thing as more of a permanent fix rather than a temporary patch so we don’t have to do this again,” said Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Panabaker.
Officials were glad to hear that the corps’ recommendation would be ready within three weeks.
“I came away from there feeling that the agency was going to do the best they could and things were going to get moving,” Panabaker said.