Officials eye federal funds for floodwall

Monday, July 3, 2006

The downtown floodwall needs more than $9 million in repair work, and local officials are eyeing plans for a new pedestrian walkway and floodgate at Independence Street. These improvements are set to move forward once federal funding is secured.

"I am committed to educating my colleagues and finding support for completion of the floodwall construction," said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

The project calls for additional expansion joints implanted in the wall to give it more flexibility, a rock berm to strengthen the old retaining wall, an upgrade of electrical equipment and pumps, added height to some wall sections and repair work for the gates.

The financing of the project is unique, say officials, due to its history. Because the original construction of the floodwall and earthen levees in 1956 was funded exclusively through federal funds, the repairs must also be federal with no matching funds required at the city level.

"We generally do a cost share with the local sponsor that means we pay 65 percent and they pay 35 percent along with the real estate, but in this case, because of the original legislation, all they are providing is the real estate," said Tamara Atchley, who is the project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed its annual bill for energy and water development appropriations with a multimillion-dollar sum set aside for the Cape Girardeau project. The Senate must now pass a similar bill before a House and Senate conference irons out any differences.

Atchley said the design plans and specifications for the work will be "on the shelf," by the end of September; the corps would be available to begin the project sometime in 2007.

One issue that has not been resolved is what will happen at what engineers have identified as the wall's weakest point. The current plans for this eight-foot section located where the wall juts out slightly at Independence Street are to remove the monolith and replace it. But some Cape Girardeau officials see that as an opportunity to improve river accessibility.

"It has always been a dream of mine to have another floodgate there at Independence and Water Street," said Mayor Jay Knudtson. "Through Jo Ann's leadership and support, we have a real good chance to take something that could be a negative like these repairs and turn it into a positive by giving our citizens more access to the river."

Cape Girardeau would pay for the design work and construction of the gate because it is not in the Army Corps of Engineers plans.

Knudtson stressed that though he is enthusiastic about the idea, it will require "bringing together some pretty big players." These players include AmerenUE, which has utility poles that may need to be relocated, and Burlington Northern, whose tracks the proposed access point would cross.

Atchley stressed that the repairs are not urgent.

"The wall held up fine during the '93 flood when the highest point was 7 feet to the top," she said. "These corrections are for the long-term integrity of the system. We don't believe there is any imminent concern of failure."

Atchley said there are cracks at many points in the wall that need repair. She also said additional flexible joints drilled in the wall will allow it to contract and expand without cracking. She said all repairs will be done without harming the mural paintings whenever possible.

"We have been working with the mural foundation, coordinating the location of these expansion joints," Atchley said. "With any work we will try to minimize the impact to the murals. One way we do that is by using colored caulk to minimize the appearance of the new work."

335-6611, extension 245

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