Cooperation Remains Key to Recertification of Levees; Flood Control; Regional Leaders Are Working Diligently on Designs That Will Satisfy Federal Agencies; OTHER VIEWS

Article excerpt

Last month marked an important milestone in southwestern Illinois' ongoing effort to improve the levees protecting the American Bottom flood plain. It was in August, five years ago, that the Federal Emergency Management Agency surprised the region with the announcement that it no longer considered the Metro East levees to be adequately providing protection at the 100-year flood level. Since then, we've learned that FEMA reached that conclusion through a faulty process that did not include any specific documentation from the Army Corps of Engineers. Despite this, the announcement triggered a process that, if allowed to run its course, would declare almost all of the American Bottom a special flood hazard area, with potentially devastating economic outcomes for the St. Louis region, particularly for the 150,000 residents, 4,000 employers and 56,000 jobs protected by the levees.

Fortunately, FEMA's ill-planned action also triggered a remarkable regional response. That response was aimed at preventing impacted businesses and residents from having to purchase mandatory flood insurance or adhere to new elevation standards for building construction once the new flood maps become final. Once it became apparent that the corps' time frame of 2044 for repairs of the levees would not be in sync with the FEMA time frame for issuing its new maps, the Metro East regional leadership took command of the process, improvements and funding. With little or no assistance from federal agencies, local and state leaders worked through the critical issues and developed a plan to improve our levees to the new federal standards.

The progress so far is a testimony to the region's ability to work together in the face of real crisis. Early successes included the creation of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council to facilitate continued collaboration between the three counties working together to oversee the restoration of the levees, and the authorization by Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties of a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to funding the levee repair work. The subsequent launch of the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance has helped to build a growing coalition of business and civic organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens all working together to help ensure the timely completion of improvements so the levees meet new federal standards. …