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Paducah in bind on floodwall

PADUCAH— City officials in Western Kentucky hope the federal government will grant an exception to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers policy before it has to award a floodwall repair contract.

The exception could allow the federal government to partially reimburse the city for the work. On such projects that receive federal funding, the local share is generally 35 percent, with the corps paying 65 percent.

Paducah city engineer Rick Murphy told The Paducah Sun he needs to award the contract before the Thanksgiving holiday. But if he awards the contract before the assistant secretary for the Army Civil Works approves the exception to policy, the city must bear the whole cost.

The city opened bids Sept. 29 for a project involving rehabilitation of pipes running through the earthern levee.

The winning $1.8 million bid from Larry Smith Contractors came in lower than Murphy expected.

The bid expires Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving.

"The corps is still coming to terms with how to handle these projects, and the more significant issue of how to pay for it," said Carol Labashosky, spokeswoman for the corps' district office in Louisville.

Murphy said the floodwall's condition and repairs have been an issue for a decade. The corps built the floodwall between 1939 and 1950, and it turned it over to the city for repair and maintenance in 1949.

Given its condition, Murphy said, "We're well beyond maintenance. While all this was going on, the pipes kept eating away. Mother Nature does not care about man's time line."

The havoc wrought by Hurricane Katrina increased federal scrutiny of flood control projects.

Paducah's annual review in the spring of 2006 found the levee minimally acceptable. In 2007, the corps sent a letter notifying Paducah it would not be eligible for aid in case of flood damage.

Congress passed the 2007 Water Resources Development Act two months later. The act included a request for a feasibility study of the repairs need in Paducah.

"Basically we got kicked out of the program by the same federal government telling me to study it some more," Murphy said.

Dan Frank, levee safety program manager for the corps' Louisville office, said many river communities face similar issues.

"This is not a unique situation," Frank said.