The city of Ellensburg has proposed clearing vegetation from the levees around the ponds at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park, which park users and community members say would damage wildlife habitat and tarnish one of the city’s favorite recreation areas.
City officials say the clearing — which, as proposed, would include most of the vegetation along the slopes of the levees — is required by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The levees are the city’s responsibility, but the Corps of Engineers certifies whether or not levees are safe, said city Planning Supervisor Lance Bailey earlier this month.
“They come and do inspections as part of the maintenance activities,” he said. “There’s certain types of vegetation that need to be regularly removed or controlled in certain areas of the levees.”
If the Corps doesn’t certify the levees, the city loses the ability to access FEMA money in case of an emergency, Bailey said.
The city’s levees are not unsafe or otherwise deficient. The levees did receive “minimally acceptable” overall marks, with a few “unacceptable” grades, in the last review from the Corps, dated 2012.
“The city’s kind of in the middle of it,” City Engineer Derek Mayo said earlier this month. The Corps is concerned the high water and debris can rip out larger vegetation, damaging a levee.
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