Budget squeeze will be felt at local reservoir

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
The costs of the war on terrorism and Congressional reluctance to increase funding are having a painful impact on Marion Reservoir.

The reservoir is slated to lose some U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel as the Tulsa District consolidates employees to redirect up to $7 million annually to help meet maintenance costs in a system that’s beginning to age.

Bruce Padgham, area manager for Marion, Council Grove and John Redmond Reservoir, said Marion will retain one of the three maintenance workers employed here with the other two likely to be consolidated into a crew that will work out of John Redmond.

They will continue to return for maintenance projects, but will be part of the larger crew that will give increased effort to bigger maintenance needs, he said.

Clerical staff may be consolidated into an office elsewhere, but other than that the Marion office at the reservoir will look much the same, and offer the same services five days a week, Padgham said.

“The Corps budget has remained flat for the last several years,” he said. “The outlook is for it to stay flat, especially with Congress looking for money for the war.

“At the same time our system is aging,” Padgham added. “Most of the reservoirs were built around the 1960s. Marion Reservoir was started in 1964, and finished in 1968.

He said bridges, gates, cables, roads and other infrastrure are getting older, many of them 30 and 40 years old, and they need work.

“We had to raise money from somewhere, and the decision was made to get it from labor,” he said.

Safety has still been maintained, he insisted. Padgham said if the drought is ended like the one of the late ’80s and early ’90s ended with flooding in 1993, “the reservoirs will do what they were designed to do.”

The Marion Reservoir staff currently includes three maintenance workers, two rangers, one administrative office clerk and a lake manager.

Padgham also works much of the time out of Marion by preference because he lives in the area.

Padgham said a proposed reduction earlier this year of 126 employees across the district by retirement and attrition is not expected to be as severe now with projections more in the neighborhood of reduction by 80 to 85 persons.

He said projects like the proposed expansion and improvement of camping area at Cottonwood Point aren’t necessarily out of the question, but will need to wait for individual funding from Congress.

Other Tulsa District Kansas lakes include Big Hill, Elk City, Fall River, Toronto and El Dorado, all of them part of the Arkansas River Watershed.

Padgham said other Kansas federal reservoirs such as Kanopolis and Milford are out of the Kansas City District because they are part of the Missouri River Watershed.

Col. Robert Suthard Jr., district commander, said all reservoir parks will stay open while maintenance efforts increase. He said there is a shortfall of $12.5 million annually in major work items programs with a minimum of about $2 million annually going toward major work item maintenance.

Original planned staff reductions would have added $7.6 million to major maintenance.

Suthard said the number of area offices was to be reduced from 11 to five, lake offices from 24 to 13, with 10 ranger stations created to replace lake offices.

Council Grove was to convert to a ranger station in planning last spring while Marion remained a lake office. But now that situation has been reversed. Marion was changed to a ranger station while Council Grove retained a lake office.

Ed Engelke, public affairs specialist for the Corps at Tulsa, said the name changes “aren’t necessarily based on function,” but more on “the Army need to call it something.”

Said Engelke: “At the lake level, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll still be open five days a week. I would expect there to still be some shuffling of personnel and the activities these people do.

“In the case of Marion, it probably means some clerical support will be elsewhere. There will be essentially the same public functions sauch as service to campers and land management.

“If the clock could be turned back, someone at the Corps might have said, let’s not call it that. The district has a need to identify resources that can be used to support projects.

“We’re looking at the funding Congress has opted to give us, and where personnel can be trimmed to support projects. We have a large backlog of maintenance needs to be met.”

Engelke said in Tulsa the Corps had had five floors of office space, but will be giving up two floors that should save $1.5 million a year in rent, plus the consolidation of personnel.

Padgham added that the Corps has continued to find “better ways to do it” in the staff and office changes.

Wildlife, hunting and fishing services at Marion are carried out by Kansas Wildlife and Parks, and Padgham doesn’t expect to see any changes there unless it would come through the state of Kansas.

Some examples of maintenance needs out of the Tulsa office include a broken spillway abutment training wall at Fort Supply, corroded power intake gate hoist chains at Eufaula, deteriorated wiring such as in a volt feeder spillway junction box at Canton Lake, and corrosion of a gate at Fall River Dam.

Padgham said: “Marion Reservoir is in really good shape. The roadway over the dam has just been redone.”

Speed limits over the dam at Council Grove have been reduced because of road surface conditions and deteriorated guard rails, so that is a project that will have to be done, Padgham said.

One person contacted at the Tulsa office said there had been talk “around the water cooler” among civilian staff that the best way to call Congressional attention to Corps funding needs might be to begin recreation cuts.

“That would for sure get their attention,” he said. “But it’s the real live green-suit colonels and the general who run this place. It’s the Army. They’re security concious. They said the road to get the most attention is not the right way to go. They need to make sure this place is as lean as it can be before they do anything like that.”

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