Guest view: Recognize what metro-east levees protect

July 6, 2013 

As the mighty Mississippi settles back into her banks, the work being done by the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council takes on new significance in light of a recently released study highlighting the considerable effect of the Illinois 3 Corridor that runs through the American Bottom.

Some people might have been confused by recent reports about levee breaches in West Alton, Mo., or Grafton, thinking it was part of the levee system protecting the communities from Alton to Columbia in Southwestern Illinois. While these communities were unfortunately inundated by flood waters, the metro-east levees performed well, protecting the American Bottom from the Mississippi River, which crested in early June at levels among the highest on record.

To ensure that those levees continue to do their job in years to come, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council is ramping up work on a $161 million project to improve the area's levee system to federal standards by 2015. The money to pay for these improvements is coming from a dedicated sales tax that has been collected since 2009.

When the county board chairs of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties made the bold decision to implement the tax, they did so to protect the 150,000 residents in the flood plain area that encompasses 25 individual communities in Southwestern Illinois, as well as the tens of thousands of jobs located there.

The recently released study conducted for the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois by the Heartlands Conservancy took a different view of the current economic effect of that area by focusing on the Illinois 3 corridor. Illinois 3 is essentially the backbone of the nearly 60-mile long, five-mile wide economic corridor in the levee-protected American Bottom that runs parallel to the Mississippi River and Interstate 255. It connects businesses and consumers from north of Alton to south of Waterloo, providing access through the industrial heart of the region, including Wood River, Granite City, East St. Louis, Sauget and Dupo.

The findings revealed that the direct impacts of the Illinois 3 corridor include 1,380 businesses with at least 10 employees, and combined annual revenue of $6.3 billion. These corridor businesses provide employment for a workforce of 75,000 and an annual payroll of $3.3 billion.

Considering all that the metro-east levees protect, we applaud our county leadership and the Flood Prevention District Council for their ongoing work to improve the system. The clear commitment to get this job completed by 2015 reinforces that the American Bottom is open for business. Progress is evident as construction contracts are being awarded and the Levee Issues Alliance is carefully monitoring that progress to ensure timely completion. We look forward to continued infrastructure investment to support the existing businesses and industries that are booming here, and to welcoming new businesses that will benefit from being in this prime central geographic location where multi-modal transportation assets converge.

Rich Conner is chairman of the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, which is administered by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois to help prevent the unintended economic consequences produced by FEMA's update of the flood insurance rate maps in our region.

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