MIAMI - Miami Mayor Brent Brassfield, admittedly tired and emotional after a week of watching his hometown fight a record-setting flood, held no punches last week as he met face to face with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Brassfield joined state Sen. Charles Wyrick and the Ottawa County commissioners in a mid-morning meeting Friday at the Miami Municipal Airport.
“I am pissed off,” Brassfield said as he asked the corps' lead civilian why the entity is not looking to the Grand River Dam Authority to fund an engineering study - a study that could point engineers toward a resolution for Miami's flood-prone tendencies.
Miami officials met with the Corps of Engineers in December of last year where Tulsa's U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District Engineer John Roberts asked the city to pay for a $4 million study, according to Brassfield.
The project would include about three years of research to determine if Miami's flooding problems could be resolved by additional easements, a levy system or changes in the Pensacola Dam's operational manual - or a combination thereof.
“In 1941, GRDA was ordered to buy 12,000 acres of additional flowage easements Š and they did not do it,” Brassfield said. “Yet, you look at us to pay for a study? Š If GRDA had done what it was supposed to do in 1941 Š why in the hell would we be asked to pay for another study?”
Roberts responded with an announcement that a feasibility study is awaiting federal approval that, if signed, would bring full federal funding to the proposed study.
“The funding has been authorized,” Roberts said. “We just need the approval (of the study).”
If approved, the study could take two to three years to complete, Roberts said.
County commissioners, also frustrated with flooding conditions that have forced an estimated 700 residents from their homes in and around Miami, questioned operations at the dam through the last two flood events.
First Assistant District Attorney Ben Loring asked why floodgates at the Pensacola Dam were not opened until 7.5 inches of rain had fallen in Kansas.
“Why could Grand Lake not have been pulled down lower to accommodate this situation,” Commission Chairman Russell Earls said.
When Miami began to flood on July 3, Grand Lake had been in the flood pool for 20 consecutive days and releasing water at an average pace of 28,453 cubic feet per second.
However, Roberts said the corps did pre-release water and operated in accordance with the water control manual.
Corps officials did agree to look back at the corps data to determine if operations ever fell out of regulation.
Earls said he will travel to Tulsa to join officials in reviewing the day-to-day data, to include release, inflow and rainfall in the Arkansas River basin.
City, county and state officials agree that the current flooding situation in Miami is an event that would have flooded Miami at record-levels despite proper procedure at the dam. But, a flood event in June that forced water out of flowage easements is being scrutinized.
County officials are now in the process of establishing bench marks to note the occasions when floodwaters exceed documented flowage easements. The benchmarks will be used as a tool in enforcing a new county floodplain ordinance that allows for fines to be assessed against anyone who puts water upon properties where flowage easements do not exist.
The Corps of Engineers has admitted that flowage easements are inadequate for Grand Lake, but the matter of who is responsible for purchasing and paying for new easements - GRDA or the Corps - will have to be decided either congressionally or in a court of law, Roberts said.
Brassfield said Miami has worked hard to overcome the trials of Tar Creek and the closing of the B.F. Goodrich Plant and economic development is starting to blossom.
“We are fighters,” Brassfield said. “But, we need some assistance. We need someone to help us to help ourselves.”
Today, water at the Pensacola Dam is at 754.39 mean sea level - .61-inches from the top of the flood pool. Five tainter gates are open and water is being released at 57,665 cubic feet per second. The Neosho River in Miami is flowing at more than 35,000 cubic feet per second.
Dams downstream are near capacity as well.
The flood pool at Lake Hudson is 91.5 percent full at 694.87. Two gates are open and water is being released into the reservoir at 52,120 cubit feet per second.
At Fort Gibson Lake, 30 gates are open and water is being released at 48,688 cubic feet per second. The flood pool is 98.4-percent full.
More rain, some heavy, is predicted today and through the next week