Wheeler Downtown Airport Proposal Raises Flood Worries

Fears of flooding have put a federally mandated runway area extension at Wheeler Downtown Airport under scrutiny.

Kansas City has proposed moving part of Lou Holland Drive that runs near the north end of the airport's main runway to route it beyond the Missouri River levee. Doing so would mean adding 90,000 cubic yards of earthen fill to the channel between the new road and the runway area.

Several levee authorities and other officials worry about the work stretching into the Missouri River flood plain, because narrowing the channel could cause the river to run higher and faster, taxing the levees.

?In light of what happened in New Orleans, we need to make sure that (the project) will not have a negative impact on our levee system,? said Richard Lanning, North Kansas City Levee District board president.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has reversed its earlier stance and now says the project will raise river surface levels. Last month the corps wrote a letter to the North Kansas City Levee District saying that a newer study showed that the project could hurt the area around the proposed fill.

Airport officials said they would work closely with the Corps of Engineers and the levee districts to correct any potential flooding problems, and Aviation Department consultants said the risk of flooding is remote.

?If they tell us what to do, we will do it,? said Mark Van Loh, Kansas City aviation director.

Morteza Dastjerdi, a project engineer for the Kansas City Water Services Department and a member of the Kansas City Levee Committee, said that the increases in the river?s speed and surface level as concluded in the newer study were not significant enough to warrant objections.

An environmental assessment study of the runway improvements, done for Kansas City by the Lee?s Summit-based Coffman Associates consulting firm, indicated that impacts to the levee systems could not be avoided, but initial hydraulic analyses concluded that the fill would not compromise the flood plain?s ability to contain a 100-year flood around the airport.

Leon Staab, district engineer for the North Kansas City Levee District, is skeptical of the analyses because, he contends, they have been biased toward acceptance of the project.

?Given the potential for loss of life and the estimated $1.7 billion dollars of investment within the protected areas of the North Kansas City unit,? Staab said, ?the levee district?s official position is that any impact is significant.?

A more complex study last year by the local HDR engineering firm showed no negative effect even in a flood similar to the one in 1993, said Molly Waller, an airport environmental planner for Coffman Associates, which is assisting the Aviation Department with its master plan for the airport.

Waller said the 1993 flood was bigger than a 100-year flood, which is the measure that had been used in the previous studies.

Charles Detrick of the Corps of Engineers played down the issue and said it was up to other governmental entities to decide how the runway area plan was carried out.

Waller said she and airport officials might look at the studies again and consider ways to mitigate potential flooding problems.

Nothing has been decided, she said, and addressing concerns are part of the continuing environmental assessment.

The target date for construction is 2007. The project is part of $70 million worth of improvements.

Kansas City Star

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