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Digging Deeper: Water Fight

PIKE COUNTY, Il (WGEM) — There’s already a lot of snow and ice jams and it’s not even spring yet.

As we head into what could be a busy flood season, there’s growing controversy surrounding the Sny Levee in Pike County, Illinois.

Some people say the levee on the Mississippi River causes problems on the Missouri side of the river because the levee was built higher than federal regulations allow.

But, officials with the levee district say that’s not accurate.

The city of Louisiana, Missouri is one of the communities that has felt the impact of historic flooding from the Mississippi River.

Businesses like Abel’s Quick Shop are always watching the river levels.

“Yes, we don’t have the capacity to protect ourselves, we are totally unprotected,” owner Mark Abel said.

With the business being so close to the river, a levee or wall is not an option.

Workers here believe the Sny Levee across the river in Pike County, Illinois, contributes to the flooding.

“We believe that there is some correlation,” Abel added. “They seem to be more frequent and they seem to get up into levels that are uncomfortable for us.”

The city believes the levee brings dangerous levels.

“You’re just helpless,” Jeff Windmiller, City Building Inspector/Code Enforcer said. “There is nothing you can do about it.”

A 2017 study by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers found that 40 percent of the levee that spans from St. Louis to the Quad Cities is above authorized levels.

An Upper Mississippi River mainstream levee system survey put out this image showing the levee is at 492 feet, four feet higher than the established regulations.

Superintendent Mike Reed disagrees with that assessment.

“These claims that we are raising flood levels is untrue,” Reed said.

He showed the documents from the federal government about raising the levee height.

“This is the letter to FEMA from Rock Island saying that we met the criteria,” Reed said. “It says the overall condition of the project appeared to be acceptable except reach two. Additional sand fill from these stations to be accomplished. That’s what we did. We got the permits from all the districts and Illinois department of natural resources from the environmental protection agency.”

That’s from 2002 documents and Reed says it’s in the guidelines from the Corp of Engineers.

“The revetment should extend above two feet above the crested elevation,” Reed said. “This is the corps manual. It is right there.”

David Stokes, Executive Director of St. Louis-based Great Rivers Habitat Alliance, said it’s time for federal agencies to step up and take action.

“How can anyone plan for this,” Stokes said. “It puts everyone at risk, it makes the flooding situation worse and it needs to be addressed. It’s time for the Corp of Engineers and FEMA to compel all the levee districts to come down to the authorized heights.”

Reed said it gets complicated because the states and counties have different laws, and Illinois is the toughest in the Tri-States.

“It would be nice if we all had the same,” Reed said. “But in fact we don’t. I know the state of Illinois is looking at administrative code on regulations regarding levee issues.”

Mark Harvey, Chairman of the group Neighbors on the Mississippi, said he wants to see the levee dropped and is asking for cooperation when resolving this issue.

“We’ve reached across the aisle and worked with other groups have some varied interest,” Harvey said. “Our goal is to try and come up with a more fair and equitable plan for the upper Mississippi River basin.”

The Corp of Engineers said it’s reviewing risk impacts and will update all sides in the future.

But, there is no timetable on when that will happen.

Both sides said they want to get this issue settled and don’t want to take this to court.

But, Harvey said legal action remains an option if this lingers on because he says people need to be protected.

Don Dwyer

Don Dwyer is a Morning Anchor/Reporter at WGEM.

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