One year later: Alexander Co., IL still dealing with busted levee

Updated: Dec. 31, 2016 at 7:37 PM CST
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ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Alexander County, Illinois is still dealing with the aftermath of the New Year Flood that began hitting the area one year ago today.

On Jan. 1, 2016, the floodwaters topped the Lens Small Levee and started washing out that portion of the levee. What was left was a 3/4 mile wide hole in the levee. The flood waters rushed in and devastated everything in their path including homes, businesses, farm land and more.

One year later, we talked with Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum to see where they are in the process of rebuilding that part of the levee.

"I thought that we would've had it back by now because other counties up and down the river have had theirs already put back with the corps but we're on our own," Tatum said.

The county's latest and possible final effort getting additional funds earlier this month was a one million dollar gr ant they applied for through the Delta Regional Authority. It was rejected, though.

Tatum said at this point there are no more options to get any outside help, and the county will have to rely on their residents to rebuild the levee themselves. However, it will be a big job for them with little funding.

"We had some high hopes for the corps getting some help," Tatum said. "We got shot down twice, three times. We're back doing it ourselves so we got a lot of good farmers that's going to pitch in that said they would help rebuild it."

The county has $550,000 in a Revolving loan fund through the State of Illinois they will be able to use to reimburse farmers and residents for the gas they use for moving in sand and dirt to rebuild and repack the levee.

"Revolving loan money that hasn't been used in over ten years, we're going to let the levee district use that and the farmers will get reimbursed for their fuel," Tatum said. "We hope we can do a lot for that $550,000 so we need to stretch it a long long way."

That $550,000 is significantly short of the 12 million dollars that Tatum said the Corps of Engineers told him it would take to rebuild the levee.

Tatum said he feels they have no choice but to do it themselves, to help save five communities in the area that is affected by floodwaters.

And while they have no additional help, he said he feels this community can pull together once again to get the job done.

"It's great living in a small county," Tatum said. "Your neighbors are always watching after neighbors. It seems like they just don't give up. I guess we are happy fighters that live here because we don't have enough funds on our own to hire, we got to do it ourselves."

He said they will have to wait until sometime during the spring or summer months to start filling in the gap in the levee.

When they start will be determined by river levels and dry conditions.

"We got to try to pick a stretch that's going to be low enough that it doesn't get over, we don't want to get halfway built as high as we're going to go and the water get over the top and wash everything we've done. We're going to have to watch the forecast."

As it sits right now, the roads nearby the broken levee can hold up to about 35 feet on the river gauge.

The newly fixed roads have been tested a couple times since the record breaking flood as the river has rose to 32 feet twice. Floods that actually helped as it brought in more sand which refilled some of the holes they would need to fix by the levee.

Still, Tatum said he feels lucky they have been able to avoid yet another flooding disaster since the turn of the year, but still feels frustrated at the lack of help.

"We're tax payers just like everybody else in the country but it seems like (when) something goes bad, we're just left to do it
on our own.

"We think we pay the same taxes as everybody else does in the world but maybe we don't."

Tatum said he just hopes to get the levee repaired quickly before any flooding could occur and cause anymore damage.

For those that want to help fill in and repair the levee in the spring or summer time can contact the Alexander County Highway
Department's Highway Engineer at (618)-776-5431.

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