On August 15, 2007, FEMA announced their intention to de-accredit the 65-mile St. Louis Metro East levee system protecting Illinois communities in Madison, St. Clair, and Monroe Counties, home to 156,000 residents and over 4,000 businesses.
The region’s leadership recognized that extraordinary measures were necessary to protect this economic asset and the homes and livelihoods of a large portion of the region’s population. A new revenue source was created in 2008 and a regional organization (The Southwest Illinois Flood Prevention District Council) was formed to carry out an ambitious plan to secure the new FEMA accreditation levels and maintain a level of flood protection that has been in place for some 75 years.
In order to achieve the FEMA accreditation standards announced in 2007, additional infrastructure including pump stations, gravity drains, relief wells, landside berms, and cutoff walls were needed to protect against what is known as underseepage (illustrated below).
If the Southwestern Illinois region had done nothing, property insurance premiums would have skyrocketed and placed an enormous financial burden on businesses and residents in the region, making it nearly impossible to attract future development. In a study conducted in 2010, it was found that a business producing $5 million in annual sales, with a mortgage on their $750,000 property, would face an additional insurance premium per year of $52,500! (http://www.floodpreventiondistrict.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/InsuranceCostsReport.pdf)
Developments like Gateway Commerce Center in Edwardsville, Gateway TradePort in Pontoon Beach, America's Central Port in Granite City, Alton's Center Business Park, the industrial corridor in East St. Louis and Cahokia, and the freight partners and major manufacturers throughout the region would likely have halted further investment, possibly even relocated due to over-burdensome costs and financial strain.
Recognizing the urgency of this situation, regional leaders successfully sought authorization from the Illinois General Assembly to impose a ¼ percent sales tax to pay for any necessary improvements to the levee system and created independent Flood Prevention Districts (FPDs) within each county with the authority to collect the tax. The FPD Council was formed by the three county FPDs as a joint venture to oversee the restoration of the Metro East to protect the lives, property and the economic vitality of the Southwest Illinois region.
Over the last 15 years, incredible lengths have been taken to secure what we get to celebrate this week, the 100-year level FEMA accreditation for all of the Metro East levee systems. The proactive approach by the Metro East communities resulted in reaching the 100-year improvements and accreditation 22 years sooner and at half the cost than pursuing the project through federal funding only. The region has come a long way to achieve this honor, and working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the region is continuing to pursue levee system improvements to achieve the updated 500-year level standards. The actions taken by our region are a text book example of how local communities can take initiative on levee system improvements while working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to produce an optimum result. Above all we have proven our three-county region can come together and act as one to ensure Southwestern Illinois continues to grow and succeed.