Work is about to start on the metro-east levee upgrades. That should be good news, except it's so frustrating that the federal government has been more of a hindrance than a help in reaching this point.
It has been six years since FEMA announced that the levees were dangerous and would be decertified -- an act that would cost our area millions of dollars in lower property values and higher flood insurance premiums. FEMA decided this despite the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regularly inspecting and approving the levees.
The federal government changed the standards for levees, which is fine, but wasn't willing to give our area the time or the money to meet them. Even creating a regional authority to coordinate the work and imposing a new sales tax to pay for it didn't stop the onslaught.
Congress had to force FEMA to do the logical thing and look at both sides of the river at once, not just the Illinois side. Local leaders had to sue FEMA to show it hadn't followed proper procedures and stop it from issuing new flood maps. Local leaders also had to complain publicly -- a lot -- to get the Corps to move faster and give the needed approvals so the work could be done by a deadline of 2015.
It's still not clear that we will be able to avoid the dreaded decertification. The process has been so delayed that there's not much room for error for the local portion of the work to finish by 2015. The Corps almost certainly will not be done with a critical section of work it is doing near the Mel Price Lock and Dam.
Supposedly the federal government showed up to help our area, but holding us hostage and pursuing actions that could cause economic consequences as devastating as a flood isn't our idea of helping.