Grand Tower residents prepare for the possibiity their levee could fail

Published: Feb. 17, 2014 at 2:17 PM CST
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GRAND TOWER, IL (KFVS) - To say the Grand Tower Levee  along the Big Muddy River was in bad shape may be an understatement.

In fact according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson the top seven feet of the entire levee is bad.

That's not taking into consideration the aging flood gates and drainage pipes built into the levee more than 60 years ago.

Now many people in Grand Tower and Degognia Levee Districts are making plans on what to do if the flood waters come rushing into their towns.

"It's devastating because you don't know, we've started packing," Martha Vest said. "And not because we don't have faith that they're going to fix it. But I have things that have been passed down to me my whole life. I don't want to take the chance that it'll be gone."

Homes aren't the only things that could be lost if the levees fail. So could a number of businesses like George Hoffman's Trucking Company.

"Either way the floods are coming the water comes every year. It's going to come again," Jessica Krause said. "It's a problem now that everyone is aware of. But was far as what to do, where to go? You gotta do it whenever it happens, there's no way to prepare for it actually."

NOAA has predicted a 95 percent risk for flooding this year along the Mississippi River Basin.

Near Lake Itasca, Minnesota at the river's headwaters there is more than 30-inches of snow and ice pack. All that water and groundwater that will thaw once temperatures warm up, combined with Spring rains will be flowing down the river.

"The flood gates scare me more right now than the slide do along the levee, until we can get liners in them," said Roger Cavness Grand Tower Levee and Drainage District Chairman. "But it's not good having a slide anywhere along our levee system."

Cavness estimates there are dozens of slides along the Grand Tower Levee and the possibility for more to form at any time.

If either of of the levees fail in the two levee districts in southwestern Jackson County, tens of thousand of acres are in jeopardy of being under water. More than 3,000 lives would be affected.

"If it dies come I'm going to pack up my stuff as quick as I can and take it up to my dad's house in Benton," Samuel Baumgarte said. "And then if you've got anything to work with when you come back down and go from there. If you've got to build a new house or try to fix the one you had, or relocate. With no flood insurance it makes it really hard to swallow when I've still got a ten year note at the bank on my house."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with the two levee districts to try to fix the problems. But it's a cost sharing program that would require the levee districts to come up with 35 percent of the cost of the project. The Corps of Engineers would cover the remaining 65 percent.

"At current policy we have to cost share almost all the projects the corps undertakes nationwide," said Michael Peterson, media relations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "And this is a nationwide issue. We're dealing with levee problems from coast to coast any where there's basically aging infrastructure like this we're facing levee safety issues."

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