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The American Bottom Levee Project

Levee Issues Alliance helps keep restoration project on track

By ALAN J. ORTBALS
    With nearly all of the levee restoration projects completed, underway or about to start, the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance continues to convene its working group to make sure things stay on track for accreditation by the end of 2015.
P15 connerConner    That group includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, Southwestern Illinois’ congressional delegation and representatives from the Alliance.
    The Alliance is a non-profit organization that is made up of more than 400 members. It’s administered by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, and Rich Conner is chairman of the Leadership Council’s Levee Issues Alliance Committee. The Leadership Council was one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in 2010 to try to block or delay the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s remapping process.
    “FEMA was in a hurry to get the mapping process completed, which would have put us in a special flood hazard designation zone,” Conner said. “The Levee Issues Alliance was first formed to respond to FEMA and try to slow them down.”
    The lawsuit was dismissed in 2011 after FEMA announced that it had abandoned its effort to de-accredit the American Bottom levees. Since then, it’s been all quiet on the FEMA front.
    “We haven’t had any conversations with FEMA lately,” Conner said. “I think they know what we’re doing and that the improvements on the levees are underway.  We will re-engage FEMA at the appropriate time because there is still mapping to be updated and we want to make sure that those maps are accurate and that they reflect the level of protection that we have.”
    Work on the levee restoration project has been moving rapidly with the last two projects set to start in September and be completed by early summer 2015. Conner reflected on how far the area has come in dealing with this crisis.
    “We were one of the first areas in the country to respond to this threat, mobilize and put together a plan and an organization,” Conner said. “Sen. Bill Haine crafted the legislation to create and fund the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District. We’ve had great support from all of our local, state and federal politicians throughout the process.”
    Conner noted that there were plenty of bumps along the way as local leaders found it difficult to work with the Corps’ bureaucracy. The Alliance, he said, helped keep the lines of communication open through regular meetings of its working group which helped keep things on track.
    With the end of the project now in sight, Leadership Council Executive Director Ellen Krohne wants everyone to know that the American Bottom is open for business.
    “The Route 3 corridor tops $20 billion in annual revenue; supports 215,000 jobs with an annual payroll of $9.2 billion,” Krohne said. “We can see those numbers getting a lot bigger when this levees issue is behind us.”