The U.S. House approved legislation Wednesday evening that would give Fort Wayne and other cities greater control of their levee systems.
The Water Resources Reform and Development Act contained an amendment by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from ordering the widespread removal of trees and bushes from America’s earthen flood barriers.
Stutzman’s measure was part of a block of amendments endorsed in a voice vote. The House later passed the amended bill, which would provide for conservation and development projects for the nation’s waterways, in a 417-3 vote – a rare show of bipartisanship in the Republican-controlled chamber.
The Senate approved its version of a water resources bill in May. A conference committee of senators and House members will try to resolve the differences.
Stutzman said in a floor speech broadcast by C-SPAN that his proposal “saves the city of Fort Wayne $25 million and makes levee safety the highest priority.”
His measure would shelve Corps guidelines for tree removal adopted after Hurricane Katrina damaged levees in New Orleans in 2005. The amendment stipulates that existing vegetation along levees does not have to be removed unless it presents “an unacceptable safety risk.”
Fort Wayne’s city government supported Stutzman’s amendment. In a news release issued by Stutzman’s office, Mayor Tom Henry said the measure “would have a positive impact on Fort Wayne.”
The projected $25.million in savings was based on what the city paid in 2012 to eliminate vegetation and rebuild 1,100 feet of levee along Edgewater Avenue west of the Tecumseh Street bridge, according to Public Works Director Bob Kennedy. The bill for that project, completed in the last two years, came to $600,000.
Kennedy said seven miles of the city’s 10-mile levee system are heavily wooded.
For more on this story, see Thursday's print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit www.journalgazette.net after 3 a.m. Thursday.