WARRENTON — The City Commission plans to develop a new policy to address encroachments on the city’s levee system.

A recent inspection of Warrenton’s nearly 11 miles of levees revealed several issues. There are moles everywhere and, in several cases, there are structures built into levee slopes.

One example the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has rated as “unacceptable” is a garage built into the levee right of way off Main Avenue near Fourth Street.

Warrenton joins fight against flood plain

Warrenton has struggled with flood insurance and levee certification issues.

If the garage is not addressed, it could jeopardize the levee system’s status within the federal Rehabilitation and Inspection Program, which provides rehabilitation assistance.

Mark Kujala, a Clatsop County commissioner and former Warrenton mayor who has been acting as a levee consultant for the city, estimates that most of the garage is built into the right of way, property that does not belong to the homeowner.

Other encroachments include things like gates, sign posts, boat dock access ramps, water and sewer pipes, utility poles, trees and access roads — not all of which fall into the “unacceptable” category. But the property, specifically the garage, near Fourth Street has long been an issue.

“And it’s for sale,” Kujala said.

It is up to the homeowner to prove the garage does not impact the levee’s ability to withstand a major flood. Kujala outlined several steps the property owner could take that had been discussed by the inspection team in January.

The last resort would be to remove the structure entirely. But, Kujala noted, none of the options were officially sanctioned by Army Corps representatives at the time.

There is a question of how much involvement the city wants to assume in enforcing the levee right of way, Kujala said. Will the city work with the property owner to find engineering services, for example?

“Half of me wants to help the homeowner, half of me doesn’t want to assume the liability,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said.

The City Commission asked city staff and attorney Spencer Parsons to develop a draft policy for the commission to discuss at a future meeting.

With around 80 percent of Warrenton located below high tide, the aging 14-foot levees surrounding the city are critical protections that have been the source of much frustration and anxiety.

City leaders have worked for years to prove the levee system can protect the city from a 100-year flood. If the system were to be accredited by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the properties behind the levees would no longer be considered to be in the flood plain and residents would see lower flood insurance rates. Accreditation would also lower some restrictions on development.

Kujala hopes to have a final checklist of items that the city needs to address based on the January inspection from the Army Corps later this month. A final inspection report will be issued before September.

Katie Frankowicz is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact her at 971-704-1723 or kfrankowicz@dailyastorian.com.

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