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SET-BACK LEVEES ON THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 1935
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Washington, D.C. The committee met at 10:30 a. m., Hon. Riley J. Wilson (chairman) presiding.
The CHAIRMAN. The committee will come to order. This will be Pennsylvania day, but Mr. Rich has been kind enough to agree with me that Mr. Jacobs might conclude his statement relative to H. R. 7349. He has certain data that we believe would be very valuable that he wanted to submit to the committee.
Mr. MORGAN. Mr. Chairman, I should like to have a few moments to speak on this at the convenience of the committee.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Morgan, at the close of the hearing on this Pennsylvania matter, you will be given an opportunity to be heard.
Mr. Morgan. Thank you. At the close of the Pennsylvania hearing?
The CHAIRMAN. Yes. These people have come here under a special agreement made a week ago, so they should be given an opportunity to be heard first. However, we are willing to give you some time after they have concluded.
Mr. MORGAN. Thank you, sir.
STATEMENT OF HARRY JACOBS, ASSOCIATE ENGINEER, STATE
BOARD OF ENGINEERS OF THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
Mr. JACOBS. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, supplementing my remarks of the other day, I would like to call the committee's attention to a levee that was built in 1931 and 1932 by the Government as one example that stands out in the State of Louisiana and refer to it as to the way in which it was built, why it was built, and the result of it, and the condition existing today. The map here before you shows the river in gray, as it is flowing through today. In 1928 when the Flood Control Act was passed, the river at that time went around this bend I am pointing to sindicating), and came back to the east and circled around [indicating], and came on south. However, at the same time, there was a certain flow through Lake Palmira, and on old arm of the river. In the flood of 1928, realizing the condition on the existing levee around the Lake Palmira section, I appeared before the commission and the district engineer and requested that they build a low-water dam at the head of Lake Palmira in order to prevent any scouring from the river
going into the lake, which had it been filled would have resulted in the lake silting up and closing itself off completely. That levee was built as shown on Bayou Vidal, flooding out about 20,000 acres of fine land in there. Before the levee was put under contract, the Government had requested a right-of-way for this seepage known as the “upper section on the Bayou Vidal. They requested the levee board to furnish them additional right-of-way to proceed with their work, making three allocations on this, one of which was to change the existing levee, another one called "“B”, about 1,000 feet back, and another called “C”, about a mile and a half back, and then finally a round line was run around this bayou bank, which is over high land. The difference in elevation in the ground on the bayou bank and that above the two lines between is anywhere between 6 feet and 10 feet, thereby showing that if they constructed that part of the allocation of the levee on the high ground it would very much reduce the levee cost to the Government.
The district engineer requested the levee board to furnish rightsof-way on the back lane, and that held the work up for some 6 or 8 months. We requested, at the same time, that they build it on the front lane, but we were told by the president of the Mississippi River Commission that the money was there to be put under contract and unless we took advantage of it that they would be forced to take that money and spend it over in the State of Mississippi, thereby forcing the levee board to furnish the rights-of-way as they wanted them. There is absolutely no question about bank revetment that entered into this question. The reason for those big set-backs was because of the caving of the banks, and that is the cause in many cases, although in some it is not. However, I can point out to you that of over 1,000 new levees built in the State of Louisiana since 1928 that there are a great many of them where the question of revetment never entered into the picture in any way whatever. The custom under the Flood Control Act of 1928 was to make an allocation of the levee based on a 30-year life of the levee. This levee here has a 150- or a 200-year life. The reason it was located there was because it made for cheaper construction, cheaper for the Government, and they saved money. The result of all of this is that the levee board has been bankrupt and they have not the money to pay these people for the lands they have thrown out. The old levee line existing at that time, which had been built by this levee board, took this on a location approved by the Federal engineers under the 1928 act based on the 1914 grade.
There is no case on the Mississippi River which is any more outstanding than this one as an example of affording a saving to the Government. Judge Driver pointed out the other day a point that is similar to this. In other words, I am trying to show you that this is a case whereby they have actually saved money at the cost of the property owner. The property owner has not been paid, and the levee board is bankrupt and cannot make the payment today.
Mr. Rich. May I ask you a question at that point?.
Mr. Rich. As stated by the gentleman yesterday, on account of the rains, water was withheld between the two levees as now constructed. Would it be possible to reduce the amount of damage if underground piping were put into the set-back levee in order to turn that away? Would it increase the value of the property that is within the two levees at the present time?
Mr. JACOBS. In the State of Louisiana we started building levees in 1717. For a long number of years we had flumes or gates in our levee systems. We had so many crevasses as a result of those flumes that the State passed a law whereby it is a penitentiary offense for any such gates to be placed by anyone in a levee. It is prohibited by the State law and also by the Government.
Mr. Rich. If the Army engineers would do that work, couldn't they meet that situation?
Mr. JACOBS. No. If they did, we would not accept it as a maintenance job. The Flood Control Act calls for levees, after their completion, to be turned over to the State for maintenance. To put those gates in there is impractical. If a gate was built in there and it was built as it should be, it would be very expensive. If they put them in there, such as the one in the Bayou des Glaises levee that cost $300,000, that would be different, but they won't do that. This water that is impounded between these areas deprives these people of the opportunity for the cultivation of their land. If the United States Government had through their district engineers knowing that this main channel here, shown in gray [indicating), which is some 12 or 15 miles from that levee if they were to go in there themselves and enlarge this levee, which existed in 1928, and in one or two cases set it back, build it, then they would eliminate payment, and the State of Louisiana then would agree to put a gate in there in that case, but we would not accept it as long as we have an inferior line of levee along the front.
There are a number of such cases along the river that were brought up in that way as a result of the policy of the Mississippi River Commission from 1928 down to 1932. The first 4 years the engineers made allocations that went extremely far back, and as a result of these back bends tremendous blocks of land have been thrown out there and the levee boards are broke. They cannot pay up. In some cases they are issuing certificates of indebtedness in business, but in others they are not issuing them. In the fifth Louisiana district, where this levee is located, they do not believe that they should pay for the lands thrown out, although we have had some 10 or 12 cases in the Supreme Court based on that situation, which makes the responsibility for payment for it rest on the levee board.
Now, for the information of your committee, I have prepared a statement of the levee districts on the Mississippi River, divided up into parishes, with the parishes broken down into the actual project jobs, showing the actual cost of construction, the actual area involved, the assessed valuation, the amount that has been paid by the levee district, the amount still to be paid by the levee district, and the total obligation of the levee district under the State law. A question was raised the other day, I think, by you, Mr. Rich, as to what would be the amount of indebtedness for all of Louisiana on all levee set-backs. If you will check up the Government reports, you will find that they used the same percentage we used over the entire State. That is, the assessment is about 40 percent of the actual value of the land. So we use a figure of two and one-half times that to arrive at it. It is about as close as can be gotten for the stretch of the river over all of those parishes.
Mr. Rich. You are going to make that a part of the record ?
Mr. Jacobs. Yes; I am going to make that a part of the record, and I have a recapitulation of the entire river for about 600 miles, showing each levee district, and that levee district broken down, even to the showing of the name of each individual project therein.
Mr. Rich. That takes in all of the State of Louisiana insofar as it is under your jurisdiction?
Mr. JACOBS. Yes; and also the district in southeast Arkansas under the supervision of the Board of Engineers of Louisiana, which was authorized under the act of the Arkansas Legislature.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Jacobs will be given permission to file that with the committee, and we will be glad to have it.
(The data referred to by Mr. Jacobs is as follows:)
Tabulation of right-of-way acquired by the several levee districts of Louisiana and
the southeast Arkansas levee district for construction of the levees built under Flood Control Act of 1928
1 $59, 482. 40 1 $59, 482. 40 $59, 482. 40 $1,051, 019. 43
109, 070.92 1, 160, 090.35 245, 753. 46 444, 031.20 $18, 769. 29 609, 975.00 1,072, 775. 49 1,015, 212. 63 382, 980. 36 29, 092.01 641, 093. 47 21, 074, 165. 84 1,057, 317. 24 99,588.93 12, 970. 05 385, 350.98 497, 909.96 482, 381. 50 16, 451. 05 1, 323.00 40, 307. 48 58, 081. 53 43, 729. 12 6, 354. 90
74. 17 13, 652. 10 20, 081. 17 11, 601.30 2, 000, 425. 87 62, 228. 52 1,858, 932.35 3,942, 586. 74 2, 915, 477.65
1 Assessed value of land and improvements, $18,795.16 (Chicot County omitted), for which $59,482.40 was actually paid. Under the laws of Louisiana payments for land and improvements are made based on the assessed value, while payments for lands and improvements in Arkansas are made at a price determined by the laws of the State.
2 Includes $21,000 paid for land and improvements on the United States Good Hope new levee. 3 Included in improvements.