Officials with Jim Wells County and the City of Alice are breathing a collective sigh of relief after hearing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that there is still time to correct the San Diego Creek Levee problems before the final digital flood insurance rate maps are released.

This means Alice residents may not be forced to spend thousands of dollars on mandatory flood insurance because of current shortcomings at the levee.

But, local entities have much work ahead of them to bring the levee up to federal guidelines.

“We got a lot of good news. The best of it is, the preliminary maps that come out in two to three months do not trigger the flood insurance rates. What triggers that are the final maps,” City Manager Raynaldo De Los Santos Jr. said. “The final maps come out between 12 and 24 months from the time that the preliminaries come out.

“As far as the timeline, it will be late November, possibly December before the preliminary maps come out, then 12 to 23 months later the final maps are out.”

De Los Santos, along with County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz, Precinct 2 Commissioner Ventura Garcia Jr. (whose precinct has historically been responsible for the levee) and City Engineer Monty Winter took the call with FEMA Thursday morning,

De Los Santos said officials with FEMA are willing to work with the area on trying to get the levee back on the map, but the county and city will have to provide updates as to what work is being completed and when.

Officials also received contact information for a Dallas representative with the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and will be working to gain information as to what needs to be done to gain certification before the next USACE inspection.

Between the release of the preliminary maps and the final maps, FEMA will have to schedule a public hearing on the issue, put up two rounds of public notices and allow for both protests periods and appeal periods, then issue a letter of final determination. The final maps will not become effective until six months after the letter of final determination is sent. The process taking anywhere from one to two years.

De Los Santos said in the meantime, the two entities are going to see what they can do now to begin to remedy the issue.

“In speaking with the judge, there are some things we know we need to do no matter what, such as clearing brush. What we proposed is that we take this into two phases,” De Los Santos said. “Phase one are things we know we have to do and can start doing now. Phase two is to go through things that we’ll find out as we go with the Corps, whether or not we have to have any kind of studies to let us know, for example like a hydrology study, to see how water is flowing through the levee, or whether or not we need to have a hydrolic study to see the stability of the levee, what kind of damage there is or what needs repair. The Corps is going to tell us which of those things we have to do. Obviously, we don’t want to expend any more resources than we have to. But we want to get it done as soon as possible.”

At this time, Judge Saenz and Winter are working on the numbers for the first phase, and then the two entities will come up with a memorandum of understanding for cost sharing between the city and county.

“I want to emphasize that we’re going to have a strong partnership,” De Los Santos said. “We have to make sure that we see this thing through, and meticulously document everything we do, to ensure that the levee is going to be up to speed before those flood maps come out.”

Without certification, the levee will not be included on FEMA’s map, which would place about 80 percent of Alice in a flood zone.