Metro-East News

Mayor says persistent flooding is causing business, homeowners to call it quits

Grafton starts cleaning up after two-month long flood

Renee Burgess, of Grafton, IL discusses cleanup efforts at Ruebel Hotel, and throughout Grafton. The area has been hit by flooding since mid-April.
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Renee Burgess, of Grafton, IL discusses cleanup efforts at Ruebel Hotel, and throughout Grafton. The area has been hit by flooding since mid-April.

Persistent flooding over the past several months may prove to be the breaking point for some metro-east home and business owners.

After three consecutive years of floods and this year’s extended flooding, Grafton Mayor Rick Eberlin said some in his town are ready to call it quits.

“Before we considered it a nuisance. Now we’re going to lose businesses and we’re going to lose homeowners,” he said. “If it were a quick up and down like we’re used to, that would have been a different story, but this is going to adversely affect the basic structure of this town.”

Eberlin joined several mayors from cities along the Mississippi River Tuesday on a conference call with the Army Corps of Engineers, USDA and navigation industry to discuss the ongoing fallout from months of sustained flooding.

In Grafton, Eberlin said the flood has been devastating to the city’s budget, as well as to businesses and homes near the river. He said at a recent city meeting, the full scope of the damage began to take shape.

City revenue is down more than 80 percent due to closed downtown businesses, Eberlin said. Grafton relies heavily on tourism dollars and downtown businesses, he noted.

“We had a council meeting Tuesday night and it was just unbelievably sickening as to how much we’ve been affected,” Eberlin said.

For residents, he added, the worst part has been starting the cleanup process only to be stopped by another rise in the river. Just this week the river was back up near major flood stage after a continuous descent for over a week.

“There’s been a couple of times where we start cleanup only to have it stopped by another rise in the river,” he said. “I know that there are several that are done.”

That, paired with three years of devastating floods, is what’s driving some to call it quits in Grafton. Eberlin said the city is working on a plan to help those affected by the flood in hopes of keeping them in town.

Downriver, Alton Mayor Brant Walker also is bracing for the financial impact.

He estimated that hundreds of thousands in overtime pay will come out of the city budget and that somewhere between 500 and 700 people have been temporarily put out of work by the flooding.

“This has a significant economic impact not only on the Alton city budget but regionally with that many folks being out of work,” Walker said. “It’s just been a disaster for us.”

Ardent Mills and Argosy Casino, two major job providers in the city, have been closed for more than a month. Argosy announced this week that it would reopen due to receding flood waters.

Eberlin added that farmers in Calhoun County also are taking a hit due to the Mississippi River’s closure. Many area farmers are storing grain that can’t be delivered because of the traffic restrictions in the St. Louis portion of the river.

A Slow Descent

While the Mississippi isn’t expected to rise significantly, according to officials with the Army Corp of Engineers, its descent will be a slow one with many fluctuations.

As of Tuesday, the Mississippi at St. Louis had descended to 39 feet, 32.1 feet in Alton and 28.8 in Grafton, all just below a major flood stage.

Officials from the corp said almost all of the Mississippi River except for New Orleans will no longer be in flood stage by mid-July.

This year’s flooding is considered “total system flood,” meaning all of the Mississippi River Basin has flooded.

Lessons from 1993

Still, things could be much worse in the metro-east. Both mayors agreed that improvements and changes made after the Great Flood of 1993 when the Mississippi reached its highest crest ever at 49.5 feet, have spared them from further disaster.

Walker said one of the biggest differences for his town with American Water Illinois’ water plant near Alton, which has kept clean drinking water available in the city. In 1993, water was shipped in from Anheuser-Busch in cans to many communities including Alton, due to the contamination of area water sources.

For Grafton, Eberlin said changes in infrastructure locations made a big difference. Water and sewer operations were moved uphill to avoid a repeat of issues the city had in 1993. He said going forward more conversations need to be had about future flooding.

For now, cleanup has begun in both cities. Both mayors estimated that hundreds of volunteer workers, some from across the county, will be in their cities assisting with flood cleanup over the coming weekend.

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Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.