The Wall Street Journal’s Midwest Bureau Chief, Joe Barrett, recently visited the Metro East to learn more about the evolving situation with our levees. Click the link below to view the resulting article in the November 29th edition.
Archive for November, 2010
November 16, 2010
By Jim Suhr
East St. Louis, Ill. – Three southwestern Illinois counties want a federal judge to block the U.S. government from declaring the region’s levees functionally useless, claiming that could saddle thousands of property owners with higher, unaffordable insurance rates…more
November 15, 2010
By Steve Whitworth
COLLINSVILLE – The Metro East went to court Monday in a bid to stop FEMA from issuing new maps next year that would force many residents to buy expensive flood insurance.
The state’s attorneys of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties, along with a group of municipalities and individuals, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director, Craig Fugate, in an attempt to invalidate new flood insurance rate maps that FEMA plans to issue next year…more
Action deemed necessary to protect the region’s economy
EDWARDSVILLE, ILL…Nov. 15, 2010 . . . The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois today joined the State’s Attorneys of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties and a host of other impacted parties in filing suit in federal court against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and its director Craig Fugate. The suit aims to invalidate new flood insurance rate maps that FEMA is planning to issue in the next year that would declare substantial portions of the American Bottom as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), without any justification and with dire implications for the St. Louis region. If FEMA’s actions are allowed to proceed unchecked, area residents and businesses would be faced with mandatory flood insurance requirements, serious restrictions would be placed on new developments, and the cloud of uncertainty that already is robbing the region of its ability to attract new jobs and capital investment would blanket the area for years.
“We applaud our county board chairmen for taking this important step and for their continued leadership on this vital issue as they strive to act in the best interest of more than 150,000 residents, 4,000 employers and 56,000 jobs protected by the levees,” notes Patrick McKeehan, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. “Our decision to join this lawsuit was not made lightly, but appears to be our last option in preventing the SFHA designation. It is extremely important that we protect the livelihood of workers, residents and businesses in our region, along with the long-term economic stability of the communities and institutions within the American Bottom.”
Area residents and businesses are encouraged to stay informed about the evolving issues with our region’s levees and to consider what they can do to get involved. More information is available though the website for the recently launched St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, which is being administered by the Leadership Council. Located at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org, the website makes it easy for individuals and organizations to officially join the Alliance to gain access to background information on this issue and all the latest news, while also providing helpful tools for those who would like to support the legislative or outreach efforts in the coming months. For more information, or to view a copy of the release with more details about the lawsuit, visit the website or contact the Leadership Council at 618-692-9745.
The Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois is a member-based, economic development corporation representing Madison and St. Clair counties. The Council works to attract/retain jobs and stimulate capital investment through its coalition of leaders in business, industry, labor, education and government. These effective partnerships serve as a driving force behind successful economic development efforts throughout the Metro East region.
NEWS RELEASE: Local Governments, Businesses and Citizens File Suit Against the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Block Faulty Flood Insurance MapsMonday, November 15th, 2010
COLLINSVILLE, IL November 15, 2010 — The state’s attorneys of Madison, St. Clair andMonroe Counties, along with a group of municipalities and individuals, filed suit today in federal court against the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director Craig Fugate. The purpose of the suit is to invalidate new flood insurance rate maps that FEMA is planning to issue next year.
In August 2007 FEMA announced that the levee system protecting a large area in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties no longer provided protection from a 100-year flood, and those levees would effectively be removed from flood insurance maps. This means that most homeowners and businesses in the 174 square mile area known as the American Bottom would be required to purchase costly flood insurance. The total cost of flood insurance has been estimated at $50 million annually. Also, any new building would need to be raised to a level higher than the projected flood elevation, which might be as much as 15-20 feet higher than surrounding ground.
Alan Dunstan, County Board Chair of Madison County, noted that “FEMA has a massive deficit in their flood insurance fund, and their decision to de-accredit our levees seems like a hasty and unjustified attempt to extract insurance premiums from our area to help restore the solvency of the fund.”
The affected levee systems were designed and built in the 1940’s and 1950’s by the Corps of Engineers, and the Corps has acknowledged that most of the problems alleged by FEMA are a result of a deficiency in the original design. Since the levees were originally constructed, there has never been a structural failure resulting in flooding from the Mississippi River.
Since the announcement of the FEMA decision, county leaders have repeatedly requested data, analysis, and studies from FEMA and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine whether the decision was justified. To-date, these agencies have not been able to produce the information to justify FEMA’s action.
“We are taking this action very reluctantly, but FEMA has left us with little choice but to file this lawsuit to protect the rights of citizens and businesses of the area behind the levees and to protect the economy of the region,” said Mark Kern, County Board Chair of St. Clair County.
The principal claims of the lawsuit are:
1. FEMA did not produce the information to justify the agency’s decision to de-accredit the area’s levee systems.
2. FEMA denied lawfully submitted appeals of their decision, despite information contained in those appeals demonstrating that the agency used archaic data and faulty analysis.
3. FEMA has acted to de-accredit area levee systems despite thorough annual and periodic inspections by the Corps of Engineers indicating that the levee systems are in acceptable condition and will “perform as expected,” an action that is unprecedented.
4. FEMA did not follow the requirements of the law and their own regulations to consult with local officials about the alleged “studies” that were used to justify their decision, nor did FEMA provide local officials with sufficient notice to prepare and submit information about the condition of the levee system that might have affected the agency’s decision.
The FEMA decision to de-accredit the area’s levee systems and label a large part of the region as a flood hazard area on new flood insurance rate maps will have a devastating economic impact on the region. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit believe that FEMA’s action is arbitrary and that the agency did not provide local communities with the opportunity to participate in the decisionmaking process as the law requires.
After the FEMA decision in 2007, local officials acted with great urgency to improve flood protection. A new tax was authorized by the Illinois General Assembly and passed by each of the three affected counties. The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council was created to improve the levee systems to reduce flood risk and assure that all applicable standards will be met. The Council is now inspecting the levee system and collecting data to determine the extent of any needed improvements. “Our region has acted responsibly to protect public safety by continuing to improve our levee systems. If FEMA believes that their objective is to reduce risk they should be supporting our efforts, rather than penalizing us,” said Delbert Wittenauer, Chair of the Monroe County Board.
Local officials have repeatedly appealed to federal agencies to recognize the area’s good-faith efforts to reduce flood risk and to acknowledge the shortcomings of the preliminary flood insurance maps by delaying the issuance of final maps.