Metro-East News

Here’s why another $100 million will be spent to upgrade levees along the Mississippi

Levee work in metro-east gets $95.2 million of federal money

Gary Hoelscher discusses the $95.2 million of federal money set aside to improve metro-east levees and increase flood protection to a 500-year level.
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Gary Hoelscher discusses the $95.2 million of federal money set aside to improve metro-east levees and increase flood protection to a 500-year level.

Over the next three to four years, more than $100 million is planned to be invested into the ground, and when the work is done, residents won’t be able to see much of the infrastructure improvements.

But regional leaders say it’s a good thing.

On Tuesday, regional leaders provided details on $95.2 million worth of planned federal spending in continued upgrades to the area’s 73.7-mile levee system. That, in addition to $38 million from the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, is expected to bring much of the metro-east’s levee system to a 500-year flood protection level, protecting the area’s economy and preventing a repeat of the Great Flood of ‘93.

The work will help protect about 288,000 people, 4,000 businesses and more than 56,000 jobs in the metro-east from flood waters.

The $95.2 million in spending will include new relief wells, upgrading cutoff walls, ditching and pipe collector systems, a seepage pump work on a lift station, seepage berms, among other things and is planned to take place between Cahokia and Edwardsville.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was slated to pay for 65 percent of the work needed to bring the levees up to 500-year flood protection level. The flood prevention council is paying for 35 percent of the work.

As part of the gathering on Tuesday, the regional leaders celebrated the millions of dollars invested to improve the levee system in recent years. The work took place to protect areas in the metro-east from a 100-year flood, a level needed in order to maintain accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The accreditation prevented an increase in flood insurance rates.

“If you do not have the levee you can certify to at least at the 100-year level, you can’t get good sized businesses to locate behind,” said Gary Hoelscher, the chairman of the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance.

So far $170 million has been invested into levees and work will continue into fixing under-seepage issues of the levee system, where water seeps into the soils and underneath the levee.

“This is critical issue that increases a risk of failure,” said Col. Bryan Sizemore, who is commander of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District. “We want to keep southwest Illinois open for business and we will put our engineers to work to make that happen.”

Work is being planned to bring the levees up to a 500-year-flood level and is expected to be completed by 2022, if the river stays low enough, Hoelscher said.

He added work to bring the Wood River Drainage and Levee District and the Prairie DuPont Drainage and Levee District also has moved forward. They also are at the 100-year flood protection level.

The Wood River systems need $11 million to be up to the 500-year level, Hoelscher said.

“We’re in good shape with those,” Hoelscher said.

He added there are efforts to get additional federal appropriation for the Prairie DuPont system.

Work to improve to the levees has been done through federally paid for projects, and projects funded by a local sales tax for flood prevention. To help pay for these levee improvements, the county boards in St. Clair, Madison and Monroe counties passed a quarter-cent sales tax several years ago.

Madison County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler said more than $110 million has been generated from the quarter cent sales tax dollars. He added Madison County has seen recent job growth, and businesses and infrastructure needs to be protected.

“The result of that we are truly open for business and we have an outstanding location to protect,” Prenzler said. “We have so many assets here.”

Those in who spoke bragged about the partnerships from the federal, state and local governments to carry out these projects.

East St. Louis Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks said the levees are about protecting citizens and corporate citizens.

“I’m excited about the relationships, about the partnerships that have worked to get us where we are today,” Jackson-Hicks said. “I’m excited about us working as a region because it’s important to us.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said levees help protect the local economy and jobs in the area, in addition to the residents.

“The need for our levees and to make sure they are secure for the safety the people and the safety of the economy, that hasn’t changed,” Bost said.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.