Key Milestones

Aug. 2007: FEMA announces its intention to change Southwestern Illinois’ flood insurance designation as part of its national Flood Map modernization process. Based on deficiencies related to under seepage and the advanced age of the old pumps and drainage tiles, the Corps of Engineers determined the levees are not adequate and need repair to be certified as providing protection at the 100-year flood level. Without certification by the COE, FEMA’s new maps would show the levees as deaccredited, and designate substantial portions of the American Bottom’s Area as a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA). Residents and businesses within the SFHAs would be required to purchase flood insurance and adhere to new elevation standards for construction of any new buildings once the new maps become final.

Jan. 2008: East-West Gateway coordinates submission of an AR or “Restoration” Zone Application, working in concert with the officials from the affected communities and counties, in order to have the region’s AR request reflected on revised draft floodplain maps scheduled for release in early summer 2008. The AR status recognizes that the levees are being restored and allows for a 10-year timeframe to complete repair work on the levees. Under the AR Zone designation, most residents and businesses will be required to carry federal flood insurance when the maps are finalized, but at a reduced rate. In addition, there will be new requirements on construction, but fewer than within an “unprotected” flood zone.

April 2008: Sponsored by State Sen. Bill Haine of Alton, SB 2052 passes on April 16, providing any or all of the three affected counties the option to establish flood prevention districts. These districts, with final approval from the County Boards, would have the power to enact up to a quarter-cent sales tax dedicated to funding the levee repair work. Elected officials in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties acted swiftly following passage of the bill and established Flood Protection District (FPD) Commissions within their respective jurisdictions and voted to authorize the tax.  

June 2008: FEMA releases preliminary version of updated flood risk maps for the Illinois counties of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe, reflecting the deaccredited status of the levees and showing substantial portions of the American Bottoms area as a SFHA, but with the AR Zone designation. The release of the preliminary maps marked the start of an estimated 12-month processing/review period before the maps would become final.

Sept. 2008: In response to a request from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL), FEMA agrees to delay the release of new Metro East flood insurance rate maps until the remapping is completed for the entire St. Louis region, giving Metro East leaders additional time to make further progress with the levee restoration efforts that were already underway. While residents in the flood hazard areas would still be encouraged to secure flood insurance, there would be no required – or possibly forced – purchase of insurance until the entire region has been remapped and the finalized maps are in place.

Jan. 2009: The three-county-wide sales tax goes into effect.  

June 2009: The Flood Prevention Districts (FPDs) for Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties form the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. The joint Council will facilitate continued collaboration between the three FPDs as they work together to oversee the restoration of the Metro East levee system. One of the council’s first actions was to hire a Chief Supervisor of Construction and the Works to help accelerate the restoration process.

July 2009: FEMA restarts clock on the 90-day map appeals process and 12-month finalization of the revised flood insurance rate maps.

July 2009: U.S. Congressman Jerry Costello (D-IL) introduces legislation, H.R. 3415, that would prevent changes to the current FEMA flood insurance rate maps from being implemented in areas where there is an active effort underway to fix the levees. The effect of the bill would be to freeze current insurance rates in place, preventing the requirement for mandatory purchase of flood insurance from being implemented. The freeze would be in effect until the levees are certified at the 100-year flood level, or for seven years as long as the criteria for plan implementation outlined in the bill are met. Press Release

Jan. 2010: FEMA announces that given the amount of comments received and other required administrative steps, the new maps for the Metro East and broader St. Louis region are now expected to be finalized no sooner than early 2011.

April 2010: Estimates prepared for the FPD Council indicate that flood insurance premiums could conservatively amount to $50 million annually for the area if the American Bottom is classified as a SFHA and we do not get any relief from mandatory flood insurance.

May 2010: FEMA announces that, through an administrative change, the National Flood Insurance Program will be implementing a measure to help ease the financial burden of property owners affected by the flood remapping process across the country. Eligibility for its Preferred Risk Policy – the program’s lowest-cost flood insurance policy – is extended for two years following the effective date of a map change for owners of buildings newly shown in SFHA.

May 2010: The FPD Council receives proposals from three design teams who were chosen to submit conceptual design proposals and cost estimates for improving the levees. These teams were charged with developing cost-effective design concepts, with the principal goal of achieving levee certification at the lowest cost and in the shortest time.

June 2010: A team of local and national engineering firms lead by AMEC Earth & Environmental Inc. is selected by the FPD Council to design and manage the levee improvements. AMEC’s proposed restoration project would take 2 1/2 years and cost an estimated $129.5 million, which the Council considers just a preliminary estimate until the full scope of the project is known.

July 2010: The U.S. House passes H.R. 5114, the Flood Insurance Reform Priorities Act of 2010, which contains provisions written by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello that would prevent mandatory purchase requirements for flood insurance from taking effect for five years. The bill also phases in flood insurance rates over an additional five years. Press Release

September 2010:  The St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance launches on September 8. This growing coalition of business and civic organizations, community leaders and concerned citizens is working together to gain sufficient time and funding to bring the Metro East levees up to new federal standards. The Alliance, which will be administered by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, will serve as the organizational framework for the regional, bi-partisan public/private effort to help prevent the devastating economic outcomes of the FEMA’s unchecked actions for the St. Louis region as work continues to improve the levees. Press Release

September 2010: In mid September, the 25 affected communities, three Metro East counties and the Flood Prevention District Council (FPD) received a letter from FEMA advising them of the updated process and schedule for finalizing the flood insurance rate maps for our area by December of 2011. Click here and check out the links under the Correspondence header for more details.

November 15, 2010: The state’s attorneys of Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties, along with a group of municipalities, individuals and the Leadership Council Southwester Illinois file suit in federal court against FEMA and its director, Craig Fugate. The action was taken reluctantly but was deemed the only option left to invalidate the new flood insurance rate maps that FEMA plans to issue next year.  (Related News Releases)

March 2011:   Congressman Jerry Costello introduces HR 898 which would prevent Federal Emergency Management Agency flood hazard maps from taking effect in areas where an active effort is under way to upgrade flood levees.

March 2011:   FEMA agrees to senators’ request to end “Without Levees” policy in modernizing flood maps.

May 18, 2011: The Flood Prevention District Council board of directors accepted the “30% design” and cost estimate for the Metro East levee improvement project to be implement by AMEC Earth & Environmental Inc., the firm selected last fall by the FPDC to lead the levee improvement work. Link to the board Presentations. 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).The FPD Council’s financial advisors’ latest modeling suggests that they can raise about $161 million from the sales tax, so the project is affordable, assuming that the Council doesn’t encounter major delays or cost increases beyond what they now expect.

July 20, 2011: The Flood Prevention District Council officially adopted the plan to improve the Metro East Levees on July 21st, marking another significant milestone in this ongoing regional effort. The FPD Council has confirmed that their latest estimates reveal the costs to strengthen the Metro East levees will be approximately $151 million, an amount that should be covered by the monies raised through the sales tax already imposed. The work is expected to be completed by 2014, and by sometime in 2015, the information certifying that the levees are capable of withstanding a 100-year flood should be submitted to the federal authorities, removing the cloud of uncertainty that has hovered over the region since 2007.

August 1, 2011: The federal lawsuit filed by Metro East communities challenging levee de-accreditation is dismissed after the defendant, FEMA, announced in open court that it had abandoned its proposed flood insurance rate maps that reflected a de-accreditation of the Metro East levee systems, rendering the lawsuit moot. The judge’s ruling represented a confirmation of the position held by Metro East leaders with his order noting in bolded type that, “the Court wishes to make clear – to anyone with any interest whatsoever in the American Bottoms area, especially current prospective and formerly prospective residents and businesses of the region – that the levees of the American Bottoms are accredited and have been accredited at all times relevant to this lawsuit.” However, FEMA is already back at the drawing board working to revamp its remapping processes in order to issue new maps at some point in the future. Locally, work is quickly moving ahead to invest in the area’s levee systems so that they meet all applicable regulatory and engineering standards and we can address any future challenges or questions raised by FEMA.

February 2012: The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council (FPD Council) finally received the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACOE) Approved Review Plan for the proposed Metro East levee improvement project, a full six months later than it was originally promised. At the same time, Col. Chris Hall, commander of the USACOE’s St. Louis District, also re-confirmed that the Corps will not be able to certify the Chain of Rocks Levee or the segment of the Wood River Levee that they are repairing as a result of damage it sustained during construction of Mel Price Locks and Dam. He cited the Corp’s internal policy that permits them only to certify entire levee systems, but not individual levees or levee segments, even if they own them or are responsible for their operations and repair.

February 6, 2012: The first of the 100% design packages was submitted to the Corps of Engineers by AMEC Earth and Environmental, the firm leading the levee improvement work for the FPD Council, which is hoping for approval to proceed in May. This first package consists mainly of maintenance items, but once approval is given for the work to get underway, it signals the beginning of the construction process, an important milestone in this project.

May 1, 2012: Members of the St. Louis Metro East Levee Issues Alliance gathered to celebrate the release of the official construction schedule that has been developed by the Flood Prevention District Council (FPD Council), along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE), for the planned levee improvements. To help keep the project and its schedule top of mind, and to reinforce the importance of receiving timely permits and approvals in order to keep the project on track and within budget, the Alliance also activated a Countdown to Completion Clock on its website at www.stlmetroeastlevees.org so the public can see, at anytime, if the project is on schedule or if any issues are resulting in delays that threaten the project timeline.

June 2012: The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District (FPD) Council officially began work on the $161 million project to improve the Metro East levee system so it continues to meet all applicable regulatory and engineering standards.

July 2012: Extensive design modifications the Corps is requesting related to the use of graded filters have delayed the project by an estimated six months. This revelation results in the Levee Issues Alliance stopping the Countdown Clock in order to assess the extent and ramifications of the more conservative designs being required.

January 25, 2013: After months of joint meetings between the Flood Prevention District Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,  the levee improvement project is once again moving forward.  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, and 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 the week of Jan. 20 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 our around January 20, 2015.  With news of this agreement, the Levee Issues Alliance reactivated the Countdown Clock 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.

August 2013: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) opted not to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) for the work it will be doing on the Mel Price Reach – a key section of the Metro East Levee System.  Ironically, the primary reason cited was the lack of labor disputes here in Southwestern Illinois, something that the LIA understands is a direct result of the use of PLAs.

Fall 2013: The Flood Prevention District Council continues to award contracts for various components of the levee improvement project as it moves from the design phase into full scale construction.

May 2014: 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. Press Release

For additional background, visit www.floodpreventiondistrict.org.