Dam project hits snag over pond

By Jessica LeDuc
Blade staff writer

 Since 1996, the plan for Concordia south flood control project has included a body of standing water behind what will be the 21st Street dam. At last night's Concordia City Commission study session, that dream came to a halt.
 City Manager Larry Uri informed commissioners that the Federal Aviation Administration has stepped in to voice its objections to the proposed pond. According to the FAA, the pond would be a hazardous wildlife attractant within 5,000 feet of an airport. The FAA discourages the construction of the proposed pond because it would be incompatible with safe airport operations.
 Because the FAA has expressed its opposition to the project, the permit process for the construction of the dam will not proceed, Uri said.
 Uri explained that since the dam process has begun, he has been under the impression that the only way to build the dam was for it to have a standing body of water. He said he met with FAA representatives and told them a pond was an "unavoidable necessity" to constructing the dam.
 Uri said the FAA instructed him to ask KLA Environmental Services, the city's engineers on the project, what the dam would cost if dirt would need to be transported in to complete the project.
 "I learned for the first time that I've apparently misunderstood the situation drastically with respect to the construction needs of the dam," Uri said. "In fact, we can build this dam as a dry dam and have sufficient dirt on hand in the area to do so. While we can build a pond there, it's not a necessity."
 Because the dam can actually be built without a standing body of water, Uri said the city has lost its bargaining chip with the FAA.
 "It's one thing for me to go to the FAA and say this is a pressing public necessity and an unavoidable consequence to building the dam," he said. "It's another thing to tell them that it turns out we don't have to have the pond, we just want it."
 The earliest drawings of the flood control area have always included a pond, Uri said, which was seen as an asset to the community and economic development. While disappointing, he said, the good news is the dam can still be built as planned.
 "The FAA's objection does not put us out of business on the flood control aspect or the commercial development of our project," Uri said. "But it certainly does alter the recreational side of things."
 Another advantage to building the dam without a pond is that it should lower the cost of construction. Without a pond, the city will no longer have to pay in excess of $100,000 for wetland mitigation.
 "I am severely disappointed by the result and at myself for not having seen it," Uri said. "I really thought that we were going to be able to deal with the FAA until I realized I had not had a complete understanding of the necessities of the dam."
 Uri recommended the commission move forward with the construction of the dam, and perhaps approach the FAA in the future about building a pond.
 Commissioners Lyle Pounds and Marsha Wentz disagreed with Uri's recommendation.
 "The lake is the whole anchor of what we're doing in the south development. I personally feel like we don't need to cave so early," Pounds said. "This is ridiculous for them to make this decision with that body of water out here in the middle of Kansas."
 Pounds said, in his frustration, that the commissioners ought to sit back and table the issue to give themselves time to decide how to proceed.
 Wentz said in the city's airport master plan, which was approved by the FAA earlier this year, that the city planned to drain the airport and Shady Lake pond areas to build a new dam, and then allow them to fill with water again.
 "Can't we at least try and proceed with what we want to do? I don't think we can just let them say 'you can't do it,'" Wentz said.
 Uri said the city could fight the FAA on the issue, but the process would hold up any permits needed to build the dam.
 "We're not going to get a permit as long as their (FAA) opinion is the way it is," he said.
 Kevin Shamburg, the KLA project engineer, said there are advantages to a dry dam. He said it will slightly improve the overall flood control protection and the stability of the dam and spillway. He said the dry dam can be built with minimal alterations to the current plans, and the area will look close to the same as it does now. He said, in his opinion, there will still be the potential for some recreational development.
 "We can do the dam with the dirt that is there, and that's your number one priority," Shamburg said.
 Mayor Tim Parker said he agrees with Uri's assessment.
 "The FAA is going to be a fairly immovable object. They're just doing what their rules say," he said. "We're not going to have much luck changing their position for one place."
 Parker said he thinks the city should move forward with building the dam, then work to get FAA approval for a pond in the future.
 "If we go and start playing games with the FAA it might be five years before we can do this," he said. "How many thousands of dollars is the dam going to be then?
Wentz said she didn't think there was any chance of going back and building a pond once the dam is finished.
 "The way we build it now is the way it will be 100 years from now," she said. "They (FAA) won't let us change it after the fact."
 An amendment to the engineering contract to change to dry dam construction will be on the agenda at next week's commission meeting.

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