TULSA - Tulsa's crumbling levee system along the Arkansas River held during the historic flooding earlier this year, but barely - and only because the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and local agencies took swift action to keep the floodwaters at bay.
The levee system, now more than 70 years old, has needed serious attention for years.
The silver lining of the spring floods, some say, is that the barely-averted disaster has brought the problems with the levees into sharp focus.
County Commission Chair Karen Keith, who has worked for years to get funding for maintenance and repair of the levees, tells KRMG that this week she heard the news she's been waiting on for a long time.
The Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan to move forward with design and engineering of the improvements.
The levees are much more than walls of dirt, there are systems that allow some water to pass through them to relieve pressure, then pump the water back into the river.
But practically none of those systems still function, so it will take time and quite a bit of money to fix them.
Keith told KRMG Wednesday that the estimated cost is $148 million, though she admits that price could go up when the actual planning proceeds.
She explained that the federal government will fund 65% of the project, and the local tax assessment district will pick up the rest.
“The good news is, the feds will fund the whole project up front, interest-free,” she said, “and we'll have thirty years to pay it back.”
She said she hopes they will actually begin the work in about three years, though she calls that estimate “optimistic.”