Edwardsville…The Flood Prevention District Council board of directors yesterday accepted the “30% design” and cost estimate for the Metro East levee improvement project. The action took place during the FPD Council’s monthly meeting, where the consulting engineers gave an overview of the plan and the costs to implement it, and the Council’s financial advisors provided the Council with current revenue estimates indicating that the organization will have sufficient funds to pay for the project.
Les Sterman, chief supervisor of construction and the works for the FPD Council, noted that this is the first official cost estimate for the project, and it puts the full project costs at about $160 million (including contingency and inflation). “Our financial advisors’ latest modeling suggests that we can raise about $161 million from the sales tax, so the project is affordable, assuming that we don’t encounter major delays or costs go up beyond what we now expect. That is good news indeed.”
The design, while still a work in progress, is the product of an intensive and extensive effort that started last October to assimilate data from hundreds of soil borings, surveys, inspections and tests to fully understand the condition of the levee systems. The analysis and work product of the FPD Council’s consulting engineers, AMEC Earth & Environmental, was subject to multiple independent reviews over the last two months by the Corps of Engineers, the levee districts, and the Council’s own independent team of engineers. While Sterman notes there is still some uncertainty in the design and costs at this stage of development, that is taken into account by adding a 20-30% contingency to the actual cost estimate. The FPD Council is now better able to understand the dimensions of the project and is getting close to the point where it can establish a firm schedule for getting it done.
Patrick McKeehan, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois and administrator for the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, welcomed the news. “For three and a half years, our region has struggled under a cloud of uncertainty as a result of FEMA’s actions and its adverse impact on residents, businesses and new development in the American Bottom. Now, we can say with confidence that the levees will be improved to the new standards so they provide American Bottom residents and businesses the highest level of flood protection.”
The good news is somewhat tempered by new information from the Corps of Engineers that the permitting process for levee alterations may be longer and more onerous than first thought, but the Leadership Council emphasizes that, while there will still be some challenges to overcome, the FPD Council’s acceptance of a project design that can be funded through the sales tax is a huge step forward for the region.
“As a region, we’ve taken charge of this issue and done our part,” adds McKeehan. “All that we ask now is that our federal agencies give us sufficient time to complete the improvements without bureaucratic delays and the economic hardship created by mandatory flood insurance requirements.”
The Levee Issues Alliance serves as the organizational framework for the regional, public/private effort to help prevent the unintended economic consequences produced by FEMA’s update of the flood insurance rate maps in our region. While the Flood Prevention District Council is charged with improving the levees, the Alliance is working to eliminate the proposed designation of the levee-protected areas in the American Bottom as special flood hazard areas (SFHA) and reduce the economic damage produced by the new insurance requirements and construction restrictions.
“Now that the FPD Council has a clear and viable path forward, the Levee Issues Alliance will step up its efforts and increase the pressure on our lawmakers and the Administration to be our partners in this process and not an impediment to achieving our common goal – protecting the lives, property and economic assets in the American Bottom,” stated McKeehan.
Copies of the presentations made at the May 19th FPD Council board meeting are available on the FPD Council’s website at www.floodpreventiondistrict.org, along with a wealth of additional information.
To learn more about the Alliance efforts, visit www.stlmetroeastlevees.org. The site makes it easy for individuals and organizations to officially join the Alliance, while also providing helpful tools for those who would like to support the legislative or outreach efforts in the coming months. For more information, visit the website or contact the Leadership Council at 618-692-9745.