Officials break ground on $500 million project to raise Kansas City levees

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Officials broke ground Wednesday on the $529 million KC Levee Mega Project along the Kansas River behind Hy-Vee Arena.

The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and area construction companies are going to be improving 17 miles of levees along the Kansas River from the mouth of the Missouri to the Turner Diagonal Bridge.

To do that they’ll be moving a million cubic yards of dirt. Just how much is that? Enough to fill Hy-vee Arena five times.

James Jenkins remembers the Great Flood of 1951 and the devastation it caused to the Argentine and Armourdale neighborhoods as well as the Stockyards and the West Bottoms.

“I remember the smell of the flood, the boxcars floating, the houses floating down the river,” Jenkins, Chairman of the Kaw Valley Drainage District, said.

Levees were newly constructed and built higher, then came 1993. Bill Haw had just purchased the Livestock Exchange building and surrounding land along the Kansas River.

“The levee people would say to me when I was standing here watching it saying you’ve got to get out of here because it’s going over the top,” Kaw said.

The Kansas River narrowly avoided the same disaster as the Missouri by as little as 8 inches. Since then local officials have worked to figure out how to build the levees higher and stronger.

“This kind of project though can not be done just with local dollars. It’s too big, the lift is too large,” Unified Government Mayor of Wyandotte County David Alvey said.

Federal funding will raise the levees and floodwalls up to 4 feet and modify or replace 17 pump stations.

The project is expected to reduce flood risks by 200% for more than 30,000 residents and $9.5 billion worth of property already behind the levees. They are also looking to the future.

“This project allows us to develop comfortably safely and also to open up amazing areas for recreation for business for commerce and for tourism,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said.

A second phase of The Yards Apartments, a Kansas City, Kansas park and a new development for the Rock Island Bridge are all planned in areas immediately behind the levee. They plan to complete the levee work in about 5 years.

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