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Funding authorized for St. Louis floodwall

Saturday, February 16, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Republican Sen. Kit Bond praised a bipartisan effort Friday that could secure up to $4 million in coming years to rebuild a floodwall that borders the Mississippi River here.

Bond said it's been a long struggle to win funding for the project. But a new infusion of federal money means construction can finally begin to refurbish a rusty wall that holds back flood waters from an industrial area along the river's edge.

"For 14 years in Washington we've tried to convince the administration that flood protection is important," Bond said at a news conference Friday. "We had to fight (environmental) activists in one administration. We've had to fight conservative budget hawks in another administration."

Last year $2 million was approved for the project, and President Bush has included $2 million in funding for the 2009 fiscal year, according to Bond's office.

The city of St. Louis will match those funds by issuing debt that was already approved by voters, said Mayor Francis Slay. He said flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the need to invest in crumbling infrastructure.

"The country learned a hard lesson in New Orleans," Slay said. "We can spend a relatively small amount of money on (flood) prevention."

The flood wall protects about 3,000 acres of land, with homes and businesses estimated to be worth some $3 billion, Bond said.

For business owners like Richard Stegmann, operating in the industrial flood plain in eastern St. Louis presents constant risks.

"I'd be lying if I said we didn't watch the stock market. But I'll tell you that we watch the Mississippi River a lot closer," said Stegmann, chairman of the Lange-Stegmann fertilizer company.

The floodwall project should get under way in early March, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can start negotiating with contractors, said David Busse, chief engineer of the Corps' St. Louis region.

The project is expected to cost more than $20 million altogether, Busse said, and will be paid for with annual federal appropriations.

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