Trees along levees get temporary reprieve

By Greg Hilburn - The News Star

Trees and ornamental shrubbery along the Tensas Basin Levee District system in northeastern Louisiana are safe from slaughter at least until next spring, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official said today.

“We’re reviewing the existing policy on encroachments and hopefully by the spring of 2008 we’ll come to some conclusion on the issue and whether or not there will be modifications,” said Tom Matthews of the corps.

Matthews was among the corps officials who began their annual three-day inspection of the Tensas levee system on Monday.

It’s the first levee inspection since a new directive was crafted following Hurricane Katrina that requires the clearing of trees and other encroachments up to 15 feet on either side of a levee.

Tensas Basin Levee District officials, as well as other levee boards throughout the country, have resisted clearing trees because of a backlash of criticism from property owners and municipal officials. The original deadline for tree removal was Dec. 31, 2007, but that has been delayed.

“We’re all trying to work together on it,” Matthews said. “We understand that this is a major issue that impacts levees throughout the country.”

John Stringer, executive director of the Tensas Basin Levee District, said he and board members have been lobbying the corps and Congress for at least temporary relief from the policy.

“We’ve pointed out a number of issues with the directive and hopefully that helped the corps to re-evaluate the policy,” Stringer said. “All we asked from the beginning was that the process be slowed down so the evidence could be examined to see if the trees are a problem.

“Certainly if we see evidence that the trees are a safety issue we’ll comply. But historically they haven’t been a problem. We think the risk is minimal, but we won’t make the final decision.”

Matthews said that he believes the corps will be able to give that guidance next year. “We may have to make modifications to see what stays and what goes,” he said. “

We want to balance both safety and ecological concerns.”

Harris Brown, president of the Tensas board, said that he was relieved to learn that the corps is re-evaluating the new policy.

“I think the most important thing is that the process is still in motion and that we have more time than we thought,” Brown said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that the corps will grant some variances on some of the more sensitive issues in the levee system.”

Although this article may appear as positive news, DO NOT let down your guard. We urge you to keep contacting YOUR elected officials and voicing your opinion on this VERY serious issue !!!

Ouachita River Foundation