After months of delay, work on a Feather River levee repair project north of Yuba City has resumed.
Heavy equipment will remove dirt from the top-third of the levee near the town of Biggs.
This is part of a project to add slurry walls to 36 miles of levee along the Feather River.
Work was stopped while the United Auburn Indian Tribe and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers argued over disposition of native artifacts found during levee work last year.
According to Mike Inamine of the Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency, the delay has extended the construction schedule into next year and will increase the cost of the project by at least $5 million.
"We can only work on the levees between April 15th and November 1st of every year and then we have to button things up in preparation for the wet season and the flood season," Inamine says.
Inamine says crews will work 10 to 12 hours a day for the next two weeks on six miles of levee. The schedule will increase to 24 hours a day, six days a week when work on the slurry wall begins.
That's good news for 250 people employed by the project. According to Jens Karlshoej of Nordic Industries says the delay cost each of his heavy equipment operators more than $5,000 a week.
"The two-and-a-half-months of work that they lost this year they'll never be able to recoup. They sat on unemployment," Karlshoej says.
Next year, an additional three miles of levee will be upgraded and a mile-and-a-half will be supported with a dirt and rock berm.
The burials were unearthed last year. The tribe and the California Native American Heritage Commission said, under state law, the bones and artifacts should have been immediately turned over to them for reburial. The U.S. Army Corps said federal law required the agency instead to turn over possession to federal archeologists for study.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa says he will see if federal law might be changed to settle this type of conflict in the future. He also says the corps could have done more to prevent delays.
"Had better surveying been done, they could have avoided some of the places where farther down the levee they were running right through the middle of things," says LaMalfa. "So better consultation would have saved a lot of this delay and additional cost."
The Army Corps says it will perform minor excavations on future levee sites to ensure there are no Native American artifacts present.
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