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Tuttle Creek’s increased discharges start, but flooding will be a risk for weeks

After weeks of keeping Tuttle Creek Lake’s water discharges to a minimum, officials have increased the outflow rate now that the lake has nearly filled its flood pool storage.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday let out 15,000 cubic feet of water per second through the lake’s stilling basin (also known as “the tubes”). That amount is a routine release for the lake.

Increased releases started at 7 a.m., and as the Corps bumped up water releases in steps, sirens near the dam sounded. On Wednesday morning, lake officials began letting out 7,000 cfs. Corps officials reached 15,000 cfs by Wednesday afternoon.

Brian McNulty, project operations manager for the Corps at the lake, said the releases had gone smoothly.

Although the releases are a substantial increase over the 200 cfs rate lake officials had maintained for weeks, officials have not issued any flooding or evacuation notices, and the releases should stay within the banks of the Big Blue River.

Inflow to the lake was reported at 30,000 cfs on Wednesday, and the lake’s flood control space was also last reported at 95.4% full Wednesday.

According to the Corps’ three-day reservoir forecast released Tuesday afternoon, the Corps expects to maintain that discharge level through Friday. The Corps also forecasts the lake will reach 1,135.40 feet above sea level on Friday. On Wednesday morning, the lake level was 1,134.40 feet.

State weather officials anticipate that heavy rain will continue into June and potentially worsen existing water control issues.

At a press conference Tuesday, McNulty said rains upriver earlier this week are expected to reach Tuttle Creek Lake throughout the next week.

So far, the Corps has not announced any plans to use the dam’s emergency spillway gates, which could cause uncontrolled flooding in and around Manhattan. In the event of potential flooding, emergency officials will issue evacuation notices to affected neighborhoods.

“It’s going to take a period of several weeks to bring the water level down, even to a manageable level like that reference of 1,116 (feet), or 1,110,” McNulty said. “We’re in this for the long haul, I would say.”

OSHA issues asbestos-related fines for Hale restoration work

The U.S. Department of Labor fined a subcontractor working at K-State’s Hale Library $193,596 and the general contractor $39,780 for improper asbestos removal.

The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited contractor Belfor Property Restoration for three serious violations after an inspection found the asbestos abatement did not comply with OSHA standards. Inspectors also found Belfor officials did not tell the building owner or employees about the location and quantity of presumed asbestos-containing material. Belfor faces penalties around $39,780.

Subcontractor Custom Crushing & Company was cited for 23 serious health violations including exposing employees to asbestos; and failing to provide respiratory protection and personal protective clothing, develop a written hazard communication program, train workers on asbestos hazards, properly dispose of material and waste containing asbestos, and conduct medical surveillance for employees exposed to health hazards.

The companies, which are both based out of Kansas City, Missouri, have contested the charges. A Department of Labor spokesman said the process begins by going to a review committee, and it enters a “sort of legal process” that could take up to a year. All proposed fines are on hold until the committee makes a decision.

OSHA officials inspected the site on Nov. 2, Dec. 5 and Feb. 26, according to documents.

OSHA officials said during a November visit to the library worksite, the employer did not perform any monitoring to determine the levels of airborne asbestos. Officials also found they did not test the average air samples while employees chipped and pulverized tiles and dry swept debris. Several violations included that the materials were dry swept with “small household brooms as well as large push brooms.”

On site, OSHA officials also noted workers were breaking materials that should have been removed intact, and then the materials were not immediately bagged or kept wet until it was taken to the trash.

Other violations included not testing employees’ abilities to use a respirator, and the face masks were not stored properly or “were not cleaned and disinfected as often as necessary to be maintained in a sanitary condition,” according to OSHA documents. The documents also state that workers were not given the correct protective outerwear and workers didn’t properly dispose contaminated clothing.

Ryan Hodge, area director for OSHA, signed off on the documents April 26. All of the violations had to be rectified by May 20.

“Asbestos is a well-known health hazard that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other life-threatening illnesses,” Hodge said in a release. “Employers working in the restoration industry are required to remediate asbestos hazards to ensure workers are adequately protected.”

K-State did not comment on the situation and deferred to the companies. Custom Crushing could not be reached for comment. Belfor’s Kansas City General Manager Rodney Todd said the company is contesting all charges and said he could not comment further.

City OKs starting Aggieville parking garage design

The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday approved starting the design process on an Aggieville parking garage.

Olsson Associates will begin to design a parking garage that would be at the intersection of North 14th and Laramie streets, just south of Rally House. The project, which will include both designs for the parking garage and a parking management plan for all of Aggieville, is budgeted at $1.2 million.

Jason Hilgers, deputy city manager, said based on preliminary design concepts, the parking garage could be five stories tall with 489 parking spots if the structure included 10,700 square feet of ground-level commercial space. Without that commercial space, the garage could accommodate 521 spaces. However, those numbers may change based on discussions that Olsson will have with Aggieville stakeholders as part of its design process.

Hilgers also told the commission that that process will evaluate how parking permits and garage fees might work. He gave a rough idea of a permit process similar to K-TAG, in which a windshield sticker would allow drivers to park in the city’s downtown, Aggieville and airport parking lots.

Once the city obtains final design options from Olsson Associates, the commission would still need to approve the final design, so the city could bid out the estimated $15.5 million construction project.

In addition to the parking garage design funding, the commission also approved a companion resolution for design and construction work on two Aggieville street redevelopment projects: 12th Street between Moro Street and Bluemont Avenue, and Laramie Street from North Manhattan Avenue to 14th Street.

Both street redevelopment projects will include the complete removal and replacement of those street segments, as well as improvement of sidewalks, sewers, stormwater, lighting and streetscape along the segments.

The 12th Street Project also includes landscaping on both sides of Bluemont Avenue between North Manhattan Avenue and 12th Street. That project will cost $2.4 million.

The Laramie Street project will include three-lane striping on the road and a new traffic signal at the intersection of 14th Street and Laramie, in conjunction with the anticipated parking garage on that street segment, at a total cost of $1.6 million.

As part of Aggieville’s redevelopment plan, several street improvements are planned throughout the next five years, including street removal and replacement on most of the roads in the district. Total costs for all of the planned Aggieville infrastructure projects is estimated between $23 and $30 million, with funding set to come from a combination of revenues including the Aggieville tax increment financing (TIF) district.

Over 20 years, TIF revenues from the district are expected to be between $15.3 and $20.6 million. The gap would be made up with either city-at-large funding or revenue from a potential 0.3% sales tax increase that could be on the ballot in November.

Commissioner Linda Morse expressed concern that the city would not have time to thoroughly evaluate the Aggieville district parking management plan if it were created concurrently with the garage design. Hilgers said that by doing both design processes at the same time, the end designs would work well together.

In other business, the commission discussed expanding the city’s authority over contractors who work in public right-of-way areas. Rob Ott, public works director, said with recent state law changes, the city needs to do more to maintain regulatory authority over the preservation and protection of the public right-of-way.

Over the past five years, the city has seen 22 incidents where contractors damaged public water mains. As part of the discussion, city administrators asked the commission for thoughts on creating an ordinance that would regulate contractors doing such work by making them obtain permits. Those permits would only apply to excavation work in the public right-of-way or work resulting in traffic disruption.

The commission briefly discussed what fees for that permitting process would look like but told city administrators that they could study the idea.

Flooding straining resources for Corps across KC district

Continued rain and major flooding in multiple states is straining resources for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, officials said Tuesday during a teleconference.

The Corps’ Kansas City District, which oversees 18 dams including Tuttle Creek Lake that work as a system, currently has two lakes that are 100 percent full: Perry Lake and Long Branch Lake. Tuttle is nearing its top. Those lakes have begun to increase outflows to avoid exceeding capacity.

Those releases threaten to contribute to flooding along the Missouri River. Officials say the river has fallen in the last few days, which means more room in the channel for upstream dams to make releases, though they’re concerned about the effect heavy rain that fell in several states Tuesday, as well as more precipitation in the forecast early next week.

Since May 22, Corps officials said 26 levees in the district have been overtopped or breeched. As of Tuesday, six river gauges showed water at major flood stage, and 11 gauges showed water at moderate flood stage.

Officials said Tuesday the good news is that all the dams are in good condition and doing what they were designed to do, which is to work as a system to maintain streamflow and prevent flooding.

The Corps has begun sending additional personnel to various lakes to monitor conditions and ensure that everything is working properly.

The Kansas City District is operating at “increased dam safety posture,” said Jud Kneuvean, emergency management chief in Kansas City, and is operating 24 hours a day until further notice.

“We’re in flood condition really from Sioux City, Iowa, to St. Louis,” Kneuvean said.

He said they’ve given out 680,000 sandbags in Kansas and Missouri in the last week. Requests for assistance have outpaced available resources, though. They’ve been taking equipment — 15 pumps, three sandbag-filling machines and some gravity filling machines — to the places most desperate for help.

Lately, he said, that’s been Brunswick, Missouri.

“Life safety is our first priority,” Kneuvean said. “Resources will be provided where they are most needed.”

John Remus, chief of the Missouri River Basin Water Management Division, said the Corps is putting between 200,000 and 250,000 acre feet of water into storage every day.

An acre foot is the volume of water it would take to cover an area of 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot.

“We need to make sure the reservoirs are still managing the flow,” he said. “We know rivers are at a higher (flood) stage downstream, but it will be less than what was experienced earlier this spring in March events.”

City's initial 2020 budget exceeds tax lid

The Manhattan City Commission on Tuesday saw a preliminary 2020 budget that intentionally exceeded the tax lid, according to officials.

Under the city’s initial budget, the property tax rate would increase by 4.35 mills to 53.704 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value.

Considering Riley County’s total property valuation has increased 2 percent, a homeowner paying $557.58 in city taxes for a $100,000 house in 2019 would pay $629.94 for a $102,000 house in 2020. This is an increase of $62.36 or 10.98%.

The rate increase would bump total new property tax revenues up to $3.1 million in 2020, which exceeds the $2.6 million that would be allowed under Kansas’s tax lid law.

The tax lid requires local governments to have an election when proposed property tax increases exceed the rate of inflation, which is based on a five-year rolling average of the Consumer Price Index. Bernie Hayen, city finance director, said city administrators intentionally presented the commission with a budget that exceeded that state tax lid law limit to demonstrate the challenges it will face in creating the budget as a result of the law.

In 2020, Manhattan’s tax base is expected to grow by about 1.9% to $586 million, meaning one mill will equal about $586,000.

City staff presented the commission with an initial $33.1 million general fund budget for 2020, which represents a 3.6% increase from the 2019 budget. The general fund, which supports the majority of city operations, is the largest fund in the overall budget, which is initially set at $164.65 million for 2020. This would be an increase of 5.59% from 2019.

This year, the city had a general fund cash balance of $3.1 million, which Hayen said was because of spending restrictions the city enacted in 2018. However, Hayen said the city will likely need to tap into that cash balance and look at some form of property tax increase due to the leveling off of most of the general fund’s other revenue sources.

Under the budget, the city is asking the commission to create nine new positions, as well as approve a 1.6% cost-of-living raise and a 2% wage raise for city employees.

The city is also proposing that the commission create an equipment reserve fund to give city staff greater latitude in purchasing necessary equipment.

The commission instructed Hayen and other city staff to revise the budget and look for ways to trim it down from a 4-mill increase and to a level allowed by the state tax lid law.

The budget work session is the first of a few scheduled this summer. The commission will next discuss the budget on June 11, with an additional session two weeks later on June 25. A third session will be held on July 9, with the option to hold a fourth session on July 23. Under the budget timeline, the commission will finalize the city budget at a first reading on Aug. 6.