COLLINSVILLE — Metro-east leaders must wait at least another week before finding out whether the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will grant a permit to allow needed repairs on 74 miles of flood protection levees in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties.
The original public comment period was set to end Monday. But the IEPA announced it had extended it until Feb. 11, adding to the frustration experienced by Les Sterman, the chief engineer for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Protection District Council based in Collinsville.
The council is still awaiting a hearing officer's decision on a Jan. 3 IEPA hearing concerning the safety of council plans for pumping water that seeps under the levees back into the Mississippi River. The council had originally applied for the state permit in December 2011, Sterman said.
"They're doing what they're supposed to do," Sterman said of the agency. "But it's taking longer than we had hoped or expected."
No substantive work on the $150 million levee repair project can begin until the state issues its permit, which is essential for required Army Corps of Engineers permits regarding the levee repair design, according to Sterman.
"This is kind of like a dog chasing its tail in some respects," Sterman said. "It's a seemingly never-ending cycle of permits and permissions here."
Sanjay Sofat, division manager for the IEPA's water bureau pollution control office, said at this point it will difficult to predict when the agency will give its OK for the permit.
"It all depends on the volume of information that we receive," Sofat said. "A lot depends on the level of the comments that we receive, the complexity of those comments."
Sofat said he not know how many comments have been submitted already.
The delays have reached the point where the metro-east's three U.S. House representatives -- John Shimkus, R-Collinsville; Bill Enyart, D-Belleville; and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville -- have sent a letter to the IEPA hearing officer to expedite his decision-making.
The repair plan for the metro-east levees is necessary to ensure their accreditation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and avoid higher flood insurance rates, the three congressmen wrote.