Pueblo residents expect another two years of construction along the Arkansas River
When Hurricane Katrina decimated New Orleans and Louisiana in 2005, FEMA made a push for levee certification. That push was felt in Pueblo where the city’s aging Arkansas River levee was forced to go under a $15 million dollar renovation.
“At the time there was a lot of talk about the mural,” said Hector Lopez, 44, Pueblo resident who attended town hall meetings over the levee construction and how to preserve one of Pueblo’s landmarks while also remaining up to code per FEMA’s requirement. “There was a lot to it. They wanted to preserve it. I mean it’s listed by World Records, so it is significant. I think they’ve done the best they can and have worked well with the community.”
The levee spans 2.8 miles along the Arkansas River. Last March dozens of people gathered to watch the extraction of some of the paintings that make up the mural, including the famous Corn Maiden. Painted in the mid-1990s in honor of the late Pueblo artist, Judith Pierce. The piece depicts the face of a woman in tribal paint surrounded by tribal relics like a halo around her head. A representation of the earth mother, the paint used to create the image included the ashes of Pierce, making it all the more priceless to Puebloans.
During the extraction of the Corn Maiden, among other paintings, contractors used special tools to remove concrete panels that weighed as much as 20 tons.
The make up of the levee
Part of the challenge to the levee outside of the mural, is the concrete and the embankment on the opposite side of the levee where Historic Arkansas Riverwalk of Pueblo (HARP) resides. When it was built in 1921 after a deadly flood that killed hundreds and destroyed downtown Pueblo, the levee was designed to re-route the Arkansas River so the structure could take advantage of the natural terrain.
Standing between the concrete levee and River Walk is a bluff that serves as a secondary embankment. Part of the problem with the levee today, outside of structural deterioration from concrete slabs that were put in place over 90 years ago, is that the embankment they were placed upon is made up of silt and other soils left behind by the flood of 1921. That there was no solidifying effort made before creating the levee, has caused some delays in the reconstruction today and will cost a few million more to fix.
Where we are today
Over the winter contractors removed about 3,000 linear feet of concrete from the face of the levee and have been able to replace about a third of that. In addition to the levee repair and replacement, essential work is needed around the structure that diverts water from the river to HARP. That work is expected to cost an additional $330,000 to a bill that is now approaching $20 million.
Furthermore, crews discovered that the levee is wider than expected in the underground portion of the river, which means more time and money will be spent on that phase of construction.
What was initially expected to be a two-year project has now grown into something much bigger and more expensive. The repairs along the 2.8-mile levee are now expected to take another two years, leaving 2019 as a preliminary end date.
“It hasn’t been too much a hassle,” Lopez said of the construction. “It’s been a couple of years now, so it’s just something you’re used to seeing along the river. I guess ultimately they are working on our safety. With so many changes happening in the climate you have to be prepared for these natural disasters to strike at any minute. I know we don’t want to be stuck with a disaster that could have been prevented.”