Yuba edges levee wall
Yuba County's flood control project officials tore down obstructions Friday so they can build new ones.
After more than four hours of testimony and questioning, silver-tongued Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority representatives convinced most of the state Reclamation Board to lift a limit on building permits in the Plumas Lake area.
Three Rivers officials argued the conditions for lifting the limit had been met because the known flood risk has been substantially reduced.
“We've tripled the level of protection,” said Ric Reinhardt, project manager for the Yuba County levee repairs.
The Three Rivers team hopes to return to the board next month with an implementation agreement outlining how landowners will fund the project, what the authority will do if funding is not provided on schedule and improvements on the county's emergency response and evacuation program.
Three Rivers, a joint powers agency of Yuba County and Reclamation District 784, had agreed to a limit of 700 building permits through the end of 2006. The county had issued 205 through mid-March.
With the building barrier lifted, Three Rivers can sell bonds to fund the final of a massive, four-phase levee improvement project. Bond values will come from newly constructed homes. Bond sales will fund the rest of the levee project.
Authority officials figure they need another $135 million to complete the project as soon as possible.
Scott Shapiro, the authority's attorney, said county officials were never comfortable with the limit. They complied to get the levee-improvement project started.
“We felt we needed to forge a compromise. So we swallowed hard, and it hurt,” he said.
Board member Lady Bug Doherty commended authority members' tenacity.
“I think they got a bone in their mouth and they ran like hell with it,” she said.
Lifting the limit would allow the authority to start funding the final phase of an extensive project reinforcing levees that protect 40 percent of the county's population. It will help complete a 200-year storm level protection in 2008, a year ahead of schedule.
Prompt completion was a big selling point Friday. The sooner the project is complete, the fewer the people at risk of flooding. New residents will continue to move into flood-prone areas, such as Plumas Lake.
Board member Butch Hodgkins was among the four board members who favored lifting the limit. Member Cheryl Bly-Chester abstained. RoseMarie Burroughs followed a Reclamation Board staff recommendation and voted to maintain the limit.
Burroughs said the authority's funding plan puts people in danger.
“To me, this is not a responsible way,” she said.
Stephen Bradley, the board's chief engineer, advised against lifting the limit because previously set conditions had not yet been met.
“Once you lift the limit, they're free to build as they please,” Bradley warned Reclamation Board members. “If you release them from the limitation, you must realize there's a gamble people may be injured by a flood over the next two years.”
Tom Foley, director of Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth, urged against lifting the ban, saying Three Rivers should rely on public funding.
“The money is there without this development bond scheme,” he said.
Shapiro said when the authority explored funding possibilities, builders stepped forward.
“We have to fund it locally,” he said.
Hodgkins said maintaining the limit will maintain the area's flood danger, too.
“If we do nothing, that condition will continue until we have a federally authorized project in place,” he said. “In Sacramento, we've been at this for 20 years, and we are still not there yet.”
When complete, Yuba County will have the highest flood protection in the valley flood plain, Reinhardt said.
Appeal-Democrat reporter Eve Hightower can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.