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   A little more than a year after stopping the countdown clock, the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance has not only restarted the clock but is cautiously optimistic that the project can be completed in 2015, according to Rich Conner, the group’s chairman.
Rich-Conner-mugConner   The Alliance is a grassroots organization made up of more than 300 members from the St. Louis region on both sides of the river. Its purpose is to keep the region’s focus on and be an advocate for the levee restoration project.
   In July 2012, the Alliance stopped the countdown clock because the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention Council had reached an impasse with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over proposed levee improvements. Through its project manager, AMEC, the SWIFPDC had planned to use graded filters in many areas along the levees to relieve water pressure during flood conditions. After a standoff period, the council agreed to use the USACE’s preferred methods of seepage berms and relief wells.
   “I think they made the right call,” Conner said. “There was just too much difference of opinion. And even though it looked at one point like maybe we would be able to move forward, the further they got into the design details, the more it became clear that the Corps was not going to agree to it. The council made a really good move by agreeing to change course and go to a more traditional design.”
   Since that change of course, things have been moving fairly smoothly through the Corps’ review process, according to Conner. The SWIFPDC has received approval on three of its six bid packages and is expecting to receive approval on the remaining three soon.
   Conner applauds the cooperation that has been received from both the state and federal level. He says that a required permit from the IEPA was received faster than the project team had even hoped.
   “That IEPA permit had to be received before we could even get to the Corps’ permitting,” Conner said. “That was a good example of people coming together and giving it the high priority on the action items that are needed to keep this thing tracking.”
   The focus on the task has also been very good on the federal level, Conner says. Illinois Senators Dick Durbin (D) and Mark Kirk (R) and CongressmenU.S. Reps. Rodney Davis (R), John Shimkus (R), and Bill Enyart (D) have worked together to get the attention of the USACE headquarters staff and to get federal funding to help with the American Bottom project.
   Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, says because of all the progress that’s been made over the last year, everyone involved is cautiously optimistic that the project can be completed in 2015.
   In the meantime, Krohne says, “the American Bottom is open for business… transportation, distribution and manufacturing. The area provides really good-paying jobs. We want the world to know that the levee project will be completed, it will be reaccredited, and we are open for business and ready for growth.”