State may have say in Bunker Lane levee

February 12, 2014
LINCOLN — The town's warrant includes a $1.2 million bond to improve the levee along Bunker Lane. For years, the town has worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) on the structure, which protects private property in the area. Recently, the town was informed that the state's Dam Bureau could require more extensive renovation of the levee.

O.J. Robinson, chairman of the board of selectmen, introduced the levee bond proposal at a hearing last week. He said $1.2 million would bring the levee back to the standards of 1960. Years of neglect have impaired the levee's effectiveness, although engineers have reported the risk is not imminent.

Robinson said proposed levee improvements are designed to return the structure back to the ACE active list. The federal engineers would take the lead in funding later repairs if the levee was damaged during a flooding event that surpasses ACE thresholds.

Paul Beaudin wondered why the town is responsible for the levee, which is not town-owned. Additionally, "We're protecting property that's in a floodplain," he said.

Town Manager Butch Burbank responded. He said the town agreed to maintain the levee under an agreement the selectmen signed in 1960. "We can't look in the rear view mirror," Burbank added. "There's plenty of blame to go around."

Beaudin said the agreement binding the town was unfortunate. "We're our own worst enemy sometimes," he noted. Although the town's fix is expensive, the benefits of the better levee are "only going to serve a few," Beaudin lamented.

"The Town of Lincoln is going to pay if we do something or don't do something," Burbank said. He added that an inadequate levee can diminish nearby property values, which could bring a lawsuit. "Either way the town is in a tough spot," Burbank concluded.

The possible state involvement in the matter is a potential "game changer," Burbank said. If classified as a dam, the levee would need to hold back 250 percent of the 100-year flood levels. Such a requirement would likely add millions to required levee improvements.

Burbank said the town hopes to meet with the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Services, which oversees the Dam Bureau. Dubois and King, the town's engineers, have a strong argument that the levee does not qualify as a dam, Burbank suggested at the hearing.

Even with possible state involvement, Robinson said this year's $1.2 bond proposal is in "the best interest of the town." He said the Dam Bureau has "been sending a note of cooperation," but the town is worried that lack action this year could increase the chance the Bureau would require more expensive improvements down the road.

Pursuant to state law, a bond item requires approval from 60 percent of the voters at next month's town meeting.

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