Metro-East News

Durbin, officials meet on levee projects

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, met Wednesday with Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno to deal with a dispute that threatens the future of flood levee improvements in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties.

The dispute centers on the Army Corps of Engineers’ rejection of project labor agreements — a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations — for the first major flood levee upgrades in the metro-east region.

Durbin joined former U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, in urging the Corps to use project labor agreements in future levee improvement projects.

“Community leaders in southwestern Illinois have worked long and hard to move forward on the levee projects in the metro-east,” Durbin said in a statement. “The fact that members of these communities have taken the unique step of taxing themselves to make needed improvements merits heightened cooperation from the Army Corps. I am disappointed in the St. Louis Corps’ refusal to work with the local sponsors on this proposal.”

Durbin said he urged McHugh to address this problem and require project labor agreements on metro-east levee improvement projects.

The stakes riding on the flood levee repair project are huge — the futures of 156,000 American Bottoms residents and 55,000 jobs.

The $160 million levee repair project is being financed through the sale of bonds that will be paid off with a quarter-cent sales tax that shoppers in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties began paying in January 2009. The tax brings in about $10 million annually.

The catalyst for the sales tax, and the massive levee repair project it is paying for, occurred more than seven years ago. That’s when the Federal Emergency Management Agency unveiled new flood hazard maps, which would have dramatically expanded the metro-east zones where residents must buy flood insurance, while making flood insurance prohibitively expensive for many families and businesses and freezing development in the expanded flood zones.