By TIM ROWDEN
Granite City – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has given the green light to start work on the first phase of a $161 million project to bring Metro East area levees up to required federal standards.
Officials with the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, meeting last week at the America’s Central Port in Granite City, announced a timetable for work to begin early next month and be completed by Dec. 31, 2014.
The project is being funded by a quarter-cent sales tax in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties.
The proposed improvements will bring the five levees that protect the American Bottom area up to the 100-year level of flood protection required for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) accreditation. A 100-year flood is one that has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year.
Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council said the project is expected to create an estimated 1,250 direct and indirect construction jobs and 2,500 total jobs across businesses and industry in the region.
Stewart said the project is also projected to generate $350 million in investments in the regional economy.
“That’s good news for our region and we look forward to getting this project under way,” Stewart said.
The American Bottom flood plain stretches from Alton to Columbia, Ill., and is home to about 156,000 people and businesses that employ about 55,000 workers.
COUNTDOWN TO COMPLETION
Officials are racing against the clock to complete the levee improvements to meet new higher federal standards before the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issues updated flood insurance rate maps for the region.
Officials have activated a “Countdown to Completion Clock” on the Alliance’s website at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org so the public and local officials can track the progress of the improvements.
Rich Conner, president of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois said part of the Alliance’s job is to “sound the alarm” if it appears that issues – such as delays in permit approval – are arising that will delay completion of the improvements. With that in mind, he said, any delay in the project will cause the Countdown Clock to stop. The additional days needed to resolve the issues will then be tracked on the Alliance’s website.
“Meeting each of the deadlines detailed in the schedule is critical to completing the levee improvements by the end of 2014, ensuring FEMA certification of our levees and continuing to provide the highest level of protection for the lives and livelihoods in the American Bottom and the economic future of the entire region,” Conner said.
Government and business leaders are eager to complete the improvements to ensure the safety of homes and businesses in the flood plain.
Officials also want to demonstrate the area is safe for new ventures and the expansion of existing businesses by removing the threat of plunging property values and rising flood insurance rates.
The American Bottom area is home to the Arizona Air Dome, the Abengoa Ehtanol plant, U.S. Steel, Solutia and ConocoPhillips, which recently completed a major upgrade of its Wood River refinery in Madison County.
“We have a lot at stake,” Conner said. “The timely completion of this project is critical to protect lives, industry, jobs and the long-term economic vitality of our region.”
Moving forward now also has positive short term implications, Conner said.
“It will put people to work. It will also send a clear message that we’re on top of this issue and fully committed to allocating the resources needed for the levees to quickly be improved to the new federal standards,” Conner said.
“As word spreads that the work is officially under way, we’re confident that people and businesses will look to southwestern Illinois as a place where they can continue to invest with confidence.”