H-SANTA MARIA

Nov 29, 2010 9:39 PM by Ariel Wesler

Levee at the center of government dispute

There's a lot of finger pointing tonight as to why the Santa Maria levee will not be fully completed by the end of the year.

The Army Corp of Engineers began construction about a year ago. It's all part of a $40 million project to strengthen 6.5 miles of levee, but before it's finished, the federal government says there is more to be done.

After getting federal support for the Santa Maria levee, the project faces another hurdle.

"I couldn't believe that the Army Corps of Engineers missed this, but they did," said Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino.

There's about 3700 feet that needs to be strengthened to completely protect those living north of Alvin Street. It's called the Bradley Canyon Extension and would cost about six million dollars.

"It's really disappointing to go back there get 46 million dollars and go back and find out that they didn't have something in the scope of their work," Lavagnino said.

The Army Corps of Engineers says the extension was not part of the original study. The agency says in August of 2009, the federal government released an updated study, but it was too late to hold off on the project.

The stimulus dollars had to be used by the end of last year. Local leaders say their funding sources have run dry and they now have to reapply for the federal funding.

"It's not like the money's not there. It's just that we have to get them to allocate it," Lavagnino said.

Meanwhile, homeowners in the area are paying around $350 a year for flood insurance, money some hope to save once the levee is completed.

Local leaders feel they shouldn't have to pay for a mistake that isn't their fault. At this point, a compromise is on the table. The federal government would pay 65 percent of the extension project. Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County would cover the remaining 35 percent, but nothing has been finalized.

The Army Corps of Engineers must get its planning documents approved and consult with the Department of Fish and Wildlife on environmental issues. The process could takes many months to complete.

Congresswoman Lois Capps is pushing to get the project approved by next summer to keep construction costs down.

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