‘Rooted in Trust and Respect’: Kansas Citys Levees Team Continues to Deliver on Commitment to Kansas City Metro Area

Engineering, construction, planning, design — these are hard sciences, which require a systemic, methodical approach. While these sciences are by no means easy, they are easy to quantify. More challenging to quantify are the soft sciences — communication, trust, respect, partnership. Building structures is a science; building partnerships is an art. It might not always be obvious, but both are often required for a successful construction project.

For the Kansas Citys Levees project team at the Kansas City District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the art of building and maintaining a culture of partnership and collaboration has proved to be just as critical for success as the design and construction of the project have been. The $529 million project, which aims to improve the reliability and resiliency of 17 miles of existing levees in the Kansas City metro area, is unlike any other in the heartland.

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Considered a USACE mega project due to its scale and scope, the Kansas Citys Levees project will reduce flood risk by 200% to 30,000 people and $10 billion of infrastructure in the Kansas City metro area. Although the project received funding in 2018, it was born as a result of the Great Flood of 1993 — a historic flood event, which had long-lasting, catastrophic impacts to the city and the region.

“[The Great Flood of 1993] justified a need for USACE to study the area and determine if additional levee improvements may be needed,” said Scott Mensing, Kansas Citys Levees program manager. “Our study found that the existing levees along the Kansas River were justified to be raised to further reduce risk of flooding to the community.”

On October 12, 2023, the KC Levees team, along with the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, the City of Kansas City, Missouri and the Kaw Valley Drainage District, celebrated a significant project milestone with the turnover of multiple pump stations. The event was held at the Strong Avenue pump station in Kansas City, Kansas. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTINE PAUL

One unique aspect of the Kansas Citys Levees project is the fact that it is 100% federally funded. According to Jared Mewmaw, programmatic technical lead for Kansas Citys Levees, this is rare for levee improvement projects in the region.

“In the Kansas City metro area, it is definitely unique [to be fully federally funded],” said Mewmaw. “It’s unique for our district, certainly.”

According to Mensing, the federal funding allowed the project team to set an aggressive schedule. Construction on the project began in 2021 and the project is currently about 65% complete with an expected completion date in 2026. Although funding came from the federal government, the project team has relied heavily on its non-federal sponsors to continue to deliver a quality project on time.

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“I think it’s important to realize the speed at which our district operated in order to meet the goals of the design and construction timeline,” said Mewmaw. “That also put us in a position where we relied on our non-federal sponsors to try and keep pace with us — and they did. Without them, we would not be successful in this project.”

Non-federal sponsors for the project include the Kaw Valley Drainage District, the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kansas and Wyandotte County. Like Mewmaw, Mensing credits the success of the project with the partnerships that have been fostered among all of those involved in the project.

“I believe the most exceptional aspect of Kansas Citys Levees is tied to our teaming, partnering and collaboration,” said Mensing. “The team prioritized inclusion and empathy during all aspects of the project … and truly appreciates the magnitude of the project and its importance to the community.”

The Kansas Citys Levees team receives the Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition Eagle Award in Kansas City, Missouri, on Dec. 8, 2022, for going above and beyond to provide water resource development and protection and providing significant economic development in the region. From left, Josh Boeckmann, Kansas Citys Levees senior railroads expert, Tom Kimes with the Missouri and Associated Rivers Coalition, Scott Mensing, Kansas Citys Levees program manager, Zack Parsons, Kansas Citys Levees project manager and Jared Memaw, Kansas Citys Levees programmatic technical lead. USACE PHOTO BY CHRISTINE PAUL

Unique for several reasons, the Kansas Citys Levees project is one that will surely have a positive impact on the Kansas City metro area for years to come. For many working on the project, it’s more than a job — it’s personal. Mewmaw, who has been working on the Kansas Citys Levees project full-time since 2018, does not take for granted being part of such an important project.

“I take a lot of pride and enjoyment in the fact that I am able to work on a project that impacts so many people and is right in the metro area, which is where I have lived my whole life,” Mewmaw said. “That is pretty rewarding to me, personally.”

Like Mewmaw, Mensing acknowledges the impact that this project will have on the people and businesses in the local community, the region and the nation.

“It has been a career highlight of mine to be one of the leaders for this team,” said Mensing. “I know that the partnerships we have established are rooted in trust and respect and will pay dividends for years to come.”

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