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House OKs halt of city levees’ tree clearing

The U.S. House approved legislation Tuesday that could prevent the federally ordered removal of trees along Fort Wayne levees.

The House voted 412-4 in favor of a House-Senate conference report on water conservation and development projects and policies. The Senate is expected to vote today or Thursday.

The compromise legislation contains a provision offered by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, that would overturn an Army Corps of Engineers guideline to clear woody vegetation from earthen flood barriers.

Stutzman introduced the amendment in October with the support of Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry. Stutzman said at the time that his provision could save Fort Wayne’s government $25 million in vegetation-removal costs along the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers.

Seven miles of the city’s 10-mile levee system are heavily wooded. The city government paid $600,000 to remove vegetation and rebuild 1,100 feet of levee along Edgewater Avenue in 2012.

Section 3013 of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act as approved Tuesday by the House calls for the Army Corps “to re-issue regulations regarding vegetation on levees that take into consideration and incorporate regional characteristics, habitat for species of concern, and levee performance.”

The Army Corps says that tree roots and the holes of burrowing animals attracted to woody areas can weaken levees. It rated Fort Wayne’s three levee systems as “unacceptable” after inspections in 2010.

The city government has said it routinely removes dead and uprooted trees from levees, and it has pointed out that the Army Corps planted trees when building the levees in the 1990s.

The water resources legislation contains no major navigation, flood management or environmental restoration projects for Indiana.