- Associated Press - Saturday, June 14, 2014

PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) - A proposal to shave the top 10 feet off the Arkansas River levee through Pueblo could affect the murals that have been painted on the levee over the years.

“It’s going to just clip them right in half,” said Cynthia Ramu, who has painted or directed painting of many of Pueblo’s signature murals. “It’s awful. I just can’t fathom it.”

The Pueblo Conservancy District, which maintains the levee built 90 years ago after the cataclysmic 1921 flood, is looking at reducing the height of the levee as a cost-effective way to improve safety.

“Right now, it’s just an option that’s being considered,” said Rick Kidd, manager and engineer for the district.

Northstar Engineering is suggesting sheering 10 feet off the top of the levee in order to reduce the pressure of weight of the levee and to improve access for repairs.

Right now, the access road at the top of the levee is just 8 feet wide, but reducing the height would allow for a 25-foot wide road, which could double both as a recreational trail and for heavy equipment access.

“When the levee was built, it was to handle a flood of 125,000-135,000 cubic feet per second,” Kidd said. “With Pueblo Dam, we now have to manage for a flood of 30,000-40,000 cfs. We don’t need the top of the levee anymore, and this would reduce the loading on the rest of the levee and gives us a work platform on top to stabilize it.”

The work could benefit artists who create murals as well, by providing access from the top, rather than having to carry in paint and other materials into job sites.

Ramu met with the conservancy district last week, trying to coordinate sites for new art projects when she learned of the possibility of reducing the size of the levee.

“I met with (other artists) and told them to be prepared for the possibility,” she said.

“It’s an engineering question, but it’s also a political question,” Kidd acknowledged.

Chopping the levee down 10 feet, as opposed to doing nothing or building a wider platform on top, appears to be the most cost-effective way to improve structural stability and safety, he said. The district will get more political in August, when its board will expand to nine members under HB1184, which was signed into law this spring.

The new members will be appointed by Pueblo City Council and Pueblo County commissioners, rather than by a district judge under the old statute.

The district has been looking at ways to improve levee safety for several years and last year began assessing all property owners in Pueblo County to raise $1 million annually for maintenance and improvements.

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