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Obama signs bill affecting Fort Wayne levees

President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which contains a provision that could prevent the widespread removal of trees and bushes from levees in Fort Wayne and throughout the country.

The House and Senate approved the legislation, which would spend $12.3 billion and fund 34 water infrastructure projects, in bipartisan votes.

The law includes a provision drafted by Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, that would eliminate earlier guidance by the Army Corps of Engineers to remove woody vegetation from earthen flood barriers nationwide. The Army Corps believes tree roots can weaken levees.

Stutzman's provision requires the Army Corps to assess vegetation removal on a case-by-case basis that considers “regional characteristics, habitat for species of concern, and levee performance.”

Fort Wayne’s city government maintains 10 miles of mostly wooded levees along the St. Marys, St. Joseph and Maumee rivers. Stutzman has said clearing Fort Wayne’s levees of trees and bushes could cost the city $25 million.

The water resources law also will deepen the Boston Harbor and the Port of Savannah, Ga., and restore the Florida Everglades, Obama said Tuesday at a signing ceremony at the White House.