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Floodwall subject of federal mandates

Early next year, some Ironton residents will find out if they have structures just a little too close to the floodwall.

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship said an inspection report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows encroachments, among other issues, along the seven-mile levee system that must be fixed in the next two years.

Getting the city’s levee system up to par with federal requirements is now a top priority, Blankenship said.

While the city has been working to correct many of the issues, some are too large to fund. Ironton residents pay into a half-mill flood levy, which brings in about $120,000 per year, but won’t cover the costs of all the necessary improvements, Blankenship said.

“We can’t keep going back to the citizens and say ‘you need to pay for this,’” he said.

The inspections and unfunded mandates for repairs stem from Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of flood levees in Louisiana. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a consulting firm to inspect the city’s levees and pumps, a more than 70-year-old system, as well as cities across the country, to ensure flood prevention systems were working properly and up to code.

According to the report, any structure, such as a garage, outbuilding, fence line, and even trees, within 15 feet of the toe of the floodwall are considered encroachments and must be moved.

But the mandates don’t just affect residents along the seven miles of floodwalls. If compliance isn’t made within the two-year time frame, each Ironton citizen could be required to purchase flood insurance.

“If in this time frame we don’t adhere to these recommendations, there is a possibility that FEMA and or the corps can decertify our floodwall, which means basically the floodwall is not there,” he said. “It would require the citizens of Ironton to purchase flood insurance.”

Blankenship said he wanted to make the public aware that there are some concerns with funding the floodwall improvements, but that he is working with Congressman Bill Johnson’s office to find assistance with grants. Johnson met with the mayor last week and Blankenship said he will be in constant contact with the congressman’s office.

In the coming months, Blankenship said he will hold public meetings to discuss citizens’ concerns and to keep the community abreast of what the city is doing to correct the issues.

“It is not my intention at all to scare anyone or for them to rush out and buy flood insurance,” Blankenship said.

He also said he planned to file for a two-year extension on the project.

Meanwhile, the city is continuing work on separating its storm water sewage drainage systems, also an unfunded mandate required by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Phase 1 of the project, which included the north end of Ironton, was recently completed. The next phase is set to begin in July and includes the North Fifth and Elm streets area.

A storm water fee was added in recent years to fund the federally mandated project.

“We have a good handle on it,” Blankenship said. “We know what we have to do. We know the schedule.”

The project must be completed by 2025.