NEWS RELEASE: Construction Now Underway on Majority of Planned Levee Improvement Projects

May 12th, 2014

Work is Under-Budget and on Schedule for 2015 Re-Accreditation of the Levee System

EDWARDSVILLE, ILL., MAY 12, 2014 . . . The St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance, a regional coalition that supports the residents and businesses in the American Bottom whose lives and livelihoods depend on the timely completion of the Metro East levee improvements, is celebrating the ramping up of work to make that goal a reality.  Several projects are currently underway, coming in under budget and estimated to be completed on schedule within the timeframe required for completion of the improvements and reaccreditation by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sometime in 2015.

A total of six separate projects are currently underway, and now that the weather has improved, approximately $3 million per month is being spent on construction of the levee improvements that will ensure the levee system continues to safeguard the homes and businesses of the 156,000 residents and 55,000 workers that lie behind it in the American Bottom.

“Things are going great overall and we remain confident that all of the work will be completed in 2015,” said Chuck Etwert, Chief Supervisor for the Flood Prevention District (FPD) Council.

As the comprehensive project moves through this more active construction phase, the Levee Issues Alliance, which is administered by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, is reinforcing that timely completion of the project remains a top priority for the region.

“A recent study reveals that the total direct and indirect annual regional impact of the levee-protected Illinois Route 3 Corridor tops $20 billion in annual business revenue, supporting more than 215,000 total jobs with an annual payroll of $9.2 billion,” stated Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Leadership Council. “It is essential to the future of our entire region that our levees continue to protect the nearly 60-mile long, five-mile wide economic corridor in the American Bottom that connects businesses and consumers from north of Alton to south of Waterloo and has the potential for significant future growth as logistics and distribution industries continue to invest here.”

The construction underway is putting local people to work as the projects have been awarded to a variety of contractors based in Southwestern Illinois or with operations in other parts of the state. Among the contractors working on the projects are Korte and Luitjohan Contractors of Highland, Keller Construction of Glen Carbon, Haier Plumbing of Okawville and Lane Construction of Shorewood, Ill., which has several local firms as subcontractors on its team.

Projects are underway on several of the individual levee systems, including: Metro East Sanitary District (MESD), where four new pump stations are being installed and other work involves clay capping, earth fill, piping, a relief well, sluice gate rehabilitation and more; Prairie Du Pont and Fish Lake Levees, both of which are also getting a new pump station, clay cap, seepage berms, piping and sluice gate rehab work; and Wood River Levee, where work is underway on a new pump station, seepage wells, earth fill, piping and more.

Individual projects will begin wrapping up as early as this month, with the rest on track for completion at varying stages over the next several months. Two other projects to build cut off walls for the Wood River levee are pending review and approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Due to continuing collaboration between the USACE and the FPD Council, those are expected soon, and the project should be out to bid later this year so that work can be completed in 2015.

“Despite some delays earlier in the process, it appears the majority of the work will be completed as planned in 2014, and we’re optimistic the remainder will be wrapped up on schedule early enough in 2015 so that all of the levees can be reaccredited before any new flood maps are released by FEMA for our region,” noted Rich Conner, Chairman of the Levee Issues Alliance. “That’s good news.”

A working group of the LIA and representatives from Senators Durbin and Kirk and Congressmen Enyart, Shimkus and Davis has been meeting regularly with representatives of the FPD Council and the USACE to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between the two and gather the information necessary to fulfill its role as the watchdog for the project. The LIA is committed to ensuring re-accreditation of the levees by FEMA in order to eliminate the future threat of much more costly insurance requirements for residents who can least afford them and for the business operating here or considering a location in the American Bottom.

“We trust the Flood Prevention District Council will continue to do everything necessary to keep this project moving forward and on schedule, and thanks to the leadership and decisive action by our three County Board Chairmen early in this process, they have resources required to get the job done,” noted Conner.

The St. Louis Metro East 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. The Alliance’s coalition of business and civic organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens is currently working to help ensure the timely completion of the levee improvements so they meet new federal standards and continue to protect the lives and livelihoods in the American Bottom, which is home to  156,000 residents and 55,000 existing jobs. Learn more at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org.

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Levee Coalition supports Flood Prevention District’s plans

November 20th, 2013

Belleville News-Democrat
November 20, 2013
By Will Buss

A coalition of local business and government officials supports the Flood Prevention District Council construction plans for two levee projects in the metro-east along the Mississippi River.

On Wednesday, the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance announced that it backs the Flood Prevention District Council’s plans for two levee reconstruction projects designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers… more

 

NEWS RELEASE: Levee Issues Alliance Supports FPD Council’s Decision to Proceed with Construction on Next Projects in Metro East Levee System

November 20th, 2013

Action maintains schedule for re-accreditation by FEMA

EDWARDSVILLE, ILL., November 20, 2013 . . .  The Levee Issues Alliance (LIA) today announced its support for the decision by the Flood Prevention District (FPD) Council to perform construction work on two levee projects that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has designed.  The LIA is confident the FPD Council and its engineering partner AMEC will complete the projects on time and on budget based on their outstanding track record with the other projects they have managed.

The projects in question are aimed at stopping underseepage of about 8,000 feet of existing levees in the Wood River Drainage and Levee District and making other improvements to the Metro East Sanitary District levee. The Levee Issues Alliance is committed to getting the entire project done on schedule, and fully supports the Flood Prevention District Council taking the steps necessary to complete the work by the end of 2015 deadline.

“The LIA has confidence the FPD Council can reduce the risk of delay at a time when the Route 3 corridor in the American Bottom is starting to grow again,” noted Rich Conner, chairman of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, which administers the Levee Issues Alliance. We must succeed and secure FEMA re-accreditation of the entire Metro East Levee system. Failure is not an option.”

A working group of the LIA has been meeting regularly with representatives of the FPD Council and the USACE to facilitate the ongoing dialogue between the two and gather the information necessary to fulfill its role as the watchdog for the project.

“We appreciate the hard work of the USACE team in completing the design in a timely manner and expect they will quickly approve the 408 permit for their own design, allowing the FPD to move into construction within the necessary time frame,” added Conner. “The funding is already in place for the FPD Council to complete all of the locally funded work thanks to the leadership and decisive action by our three County Board Chairmen. Several projects are already underway and we look forward to work moving forward on these projects in the near future.”

The LIA is simultaneously encouraging the Corps in its efforts to move forward with improvements to the Mel Price reach project that is also necessary for the system to reach accreditation. That particular project is 100 percent the responsibility of the USACE and much work remains to have it completed by the 2015 deadline set for the rest of the levee improvement project.

Those interested in learning more about the levee improvement project can visit www.stlmetroeastlevees.org. The website includes a clock counting down to the anticipated completion date for the total project, additional background information on this issue and a tab to sign up to become a member of the Levee Issues Alliance, which represents the 150,000 residents and 55,000 workers in the American Bottom whose lives and livelihoods depend on the timely completion of the Metro East levee improvements. The improvements are essential to ensuring that the levee system continues to be accredited by FEMA and to safeguard the homes and businesses that lie behind it in the flood plain area that encompasses 25 individual communities in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties. They also will help to reassure existing and potential new businesses considering expanding in or relocating to the American Bottom that Southwestern Illinois is a place where they can invest with confidence.

The St. Louis Metro East 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. The Alliance’s coalition of business and civic organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens is currently working to help ensure the timely completion of the levee improvements so they meet new federal standards and continue to protect the lives and livelihoods in the American Bottom, which is home to 156,000 residents and 55,000 existing jobs.

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Metro East officials say Corps of Engineers could impede levee upgrade project

September 14th, 2013

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
September 14, 2013
By Paul Hampel

Officials here who are scrambling to upgrade their levee system to appease one federal agency say that another federal department is looming as an obstacle.

The leaders, drawing from a pool of $175 million in revenue from a special sales tax imposed in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties, have begun taking bids for the repair and modernization of 74 miles of levees that protect the region.

They hope to complete the work by the end of 2015 to head off a threat by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to de-accredit the levees and issue maps that would designate much of the area as at high risk of flooding…more

Flood Protection: Failing levees would mean ‘incalculable’ economic loss

August 27th, 2013

The Belleville News-Democrat
August 27, 2013
By Daniel Kelley

Six years after federal officials said they did not have faith in the metro-east levee system, construction will soon begin to buoy the area’s defense against floods.

The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council expects construction work to begin at the end of September on $150 million of current and future levee improvements, according to the group’s Chief Supervisor Les Sterman. Flood protection of the metro-east falls upon five levees stretching 85 miles along the Mississippi River…more

Route 3 Corridor study shows need for levee protection

July 5th, 2013

The Alton Telegraph
July 5, 2013
By Rich Conner

As the mighty Mississippi River settles back into her banks, the work being done by the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council takes on new significance in light of a recently released study highlighting the considerable impact of the Illinois Route 3 Corridor that runs through the American Bottom.

Some may have been confused by recent reports about levee breaches in West Alton, Mo., or Grafton, thinking it was part of the levee system protecting the communities from Alton to Columbia in Southwestern Illinois. While these communities unfortunately were inundated by floodwaters, the Metro East levees performed well, protecting the American Bottom from the Mississippi River, which crested in early June at levels among the highest on record…more

Economic fast lane: Illinois 3 corridor generates $20 billion annual revenue

June 23rd, 2013

Belleville News-Democrat
June 23, 2013
By Will Buss

The metro-east businesses located along the Illinois 3 corridor are a major economic engine for local jobs and revenue.

New research into the industries and services along the 60-mile long corridor that connects three counties from Alton in the north to Waterloo in the south finds these businesses generate more than $20 million a year for the metro-east economy and more than 215,000 jobs that provide $9.2 billion to payrolls each year…more

NEWS RELEASE: Corps Accepts FPD Council’s New Levee Improvements Plan, Agrees to Schedule

January 25th, 2013

Levee Issues Alliance reactivates countdown clock to track progress in meeting new deadline of 1/20/2015 for completion of levee improvements

EDWARDSVILLE, ILL., January 25, 2013 . . . After months of joint meetings between the Flood Prevention District Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance is pleased to announce there’s about to be some more forward progress on the levee improvement project.  Major issues have now been resolved for the FPD Council’s bid package #2a, which is made up of a small pump station in the Fish Lake district; a formal approval from the Corps is expected.  More importantly, a new project schedule has been finalized and agreed to by both parties. At the latest meeting facilitated this week by the Levee Issues Alliance, the Corps  and the FPD Council committed to meeting the deadlines set forth for review and approval of each phase, so the required permits can be issued in time to meet the revised project completion date on or around January 20, 2015.

To mark this important milestone, the Levee Issues Alliance reactivated the countdown clock on its website at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org and reaffirmed that it will continue to serve in a watchdog capacity and sound the alarm if it appears the project schedule is being threatened.

“We’re encouraged by the latest developments and pleased to see that the majority of the time lost due to the impasse regarding the original design can be regained as the new plans are implemented,” noted Ronda Sauget, president of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, which administers the Levee Issues Alliance. “Of course, making up for that lost time and preventing any additional future delays will be dependent upon each element of the project staying on schedule, and we’ll be continuing to keep a close eye on its progress.”

The FPD Council’s new plans no longer call for the use of certain design features to control underseepage at key points in the levees that were a cause of disagreement between the FPD’s engineering team and the Corps. In order to find a different path forward that fits its available financing and timeline, the FPD Council has, over the past few months, devoted its resources to developing alternative designs consisting of more traditional underseepage controls. Those designs were developed in coordination with the Corps and the finalized new design uses relief wells, berms and limited cutoff walls to control underseepage. It’s a plan that also can be implemented within the $161 million budget supported by the sales tax dedicated to funding the levee improvements.

Despite the actual deadline for completion of construction  being pushed back a little into 2015, those leading the project remain confident, at this point, that the work can still be completed early enough in 2015 for the levees to be recertified as meeting the new federal standards so that their accreditation by FEMA will be assured before the end of that year.

For those interested in learning more about the updated schedule, the reactivated countdown clock including the official project schedule is available at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org. The website also includes additional background information on this issue and a tab to sign up to become a member of the Levee Issues Alliance, which represents the 150,000 residents and 55,000 workers in the American Bottom whose lives and livelihoods depend on the timely completion of the Metro East levee improvements. The improvements are essential to ensuring that the levee system continues to be accredited by FEMA and to safeguard the homes and businesses that lie behind it in the flood plain area that encompasses 25 individual communities in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties. They also will help to reassure existing and potential new businesses considering expanding in or relocating to the American Bottom that Southwestern Illinois is a place where they can invest with confidence.

“The funding is in place to accomplish our goal thanks to the leadership and decisive action by our three County Board Chairmen – Mark Kern from St. Clair County, Alan Dunstan from Madison County and Delbert Wittenauer from Monroe County,” adds Sauget. “We appreciate the willingness of the Corps and the FPD Council to sit down and work through the issues that threatened the project so work can proceed and those dollars can be invested in the levees and in the future of our region.”

The St. Louis Metro East 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. The Alliance’s coalition of business and civic organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens is currently working to help ensure the timely completion of the levee improvements so they meet new federal standards and continue to protect the lives and livelihoods in the American Bottom, which is home to 156,000 residents and 55,000 existing jobs.

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Costello, Shimkus introduce legislation to expedite Corps approval process for levee repairs

September 24th, 2012

Belleville News-Democrat
Sept. 24, 2012
By Will Buss

Local federal lawmakers are pushing a bill calling for streamlining the Corps of Engineers’ approval process, which has delayed upgrades planned for the levees on the Mississippi River.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, have introduced legislation in the U.S. House calling to give local entities a greater ability to plan and execute levee improvements, which has been critical considering current limits to the federal budget…more

NEWS RELEASE: Costello, Shimkus Introduce Legislation to Streamline Corps of Engineers Approval Process

September 20th, 2012

WASHINGTON – U.S. Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) today introduced legislation that would streamline the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers section 408 approval process for levee and other improvements.  The bill recognizes the need to give local entities a greater ability to plan and execute levee improvements, which is critical given current federal budget constraints.

“Given the lack of resources at the federal level, it is imperative that local governments take the lead in making levee improvements, and we must empower them to take on this work,” said Costello.  “The Corps is a tremendous asset to our country, but from our experience with the Metro East levee improvements, there is great difficulty in expediting their approval process.  We have held meetings with Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, Mississippi Valley Division Commander General John Peabody, and St. Louis District Commander Colonel Christopher Hall.  They all agree that this project is a top priority and that they want decisions to be made whenever possible at the district level, but the project has ground to a standstill.  Our bill is a launching off point for a discussion on how to streamline this process.”

“As someone who loves the Army, I am most frustrated with the process that has unfolded between the Corps and the Flood Prevention District,” stated Shimkus.  “I know both sides have the public’s interest at heart.  Yet every time we think the paths are merging, they end up farther apart.  This legislation allows us to give specific guidance to the Corps in how to handle situations with local entities leading a project instead of them.”

Currently, the process for granting permission to alter levees is governed by 33 USC Section 408 as implemented by Corps procedural guidance.  While projects deemed minor 408 by the Corps can be expedited, major 408 projects essentially proceed according to the Corps’ planning and development process, which includes extensive internal and external reviews.  There is no doubt that the Corps should have a central role in this process, but it must proceed more quickly.  This new legislation seeks to unlock the potential for faster, district-centric project approvals by the Corps.

“We believe that the Corps has great latitude within existing law to expedite critical investments in the nation’s levee systems, but has instead imposed, through internal guidelines, an onerous, costly and multilayered review process that delays those essential projects from moving forward,” said Les Sterman, Chief Supervisor with the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council.  “This bill formalizes the Corps review processes and establishes firm deadlines for those reviews.  This will allow project sponsors like the Flood Prevention District to plan ahead with greater certainty and move far more quickly to protect public safety and the local economy.  We thank Congressmen Costello and Shimkus for recognizing this problem and taking action to fix it.”

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