Dutchtown residents work to rebuild town

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The sign in front of the Smith Stop in Dutchtown tells the tale: "Down but not out yet," it reads.

While most of the 15 families forced from their homes by March flooding are still living in temporary quarters elsewhere -- and almost no one has completely repaired their house -- the village of 99 people is seeing signs of revival.

The village post office will return June 2, clerk Doyle Parmer said. And work is moving ahead to secure the final pieces of a funding package to pay for a levee that would permanently protect the town -- and the intersection of Highway 25, Highway 74 and Route A -- from the floods that have repeatedly put it at risk.

On Saturday, Parmer, his family and the families of several other residents took advantage of the 100-Mile Yard Sale along Highway 25 to raise money for the project. Parmer fried catfish and potatoes, kept hot dogs steaming and hawked the wares to passers-by.

"You are going away empty-handed," Parmer called out to one visitor. "You need a hot dog."

While the expected return from the catfish-and-hotdog stand, raffles and sales of assorted items isn't puny -- they hope for $5,000 or more -- in the plans for the levee, it was their presence more than the money that made a statement.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has plans for the levee ready at its Memphis, Tenn., district office. The cost, close to $3 million, requires the town to provide $764,000 in matching funds. Since March, when residents said they either need a buyout or the levee, plans have moved ahead for flood protection.

Through meetings with Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission, Parmer said the town has decided to put a $100,000 bond issue on the ballot later this year. An informal meeting with staff from Congressional offices in April brought promises that the federal share would be included in the budget this year, he said.

Parmer said he hopes to set up another meeting around the beginning of June to show the progress the town has made to secure its share.

"We're not looking for a handout," he said. "We are looking for a hand up."

The frustration that led town residents to consider a buyout after the town flooded when 11 inches of rain fell March 18 and March 19 and overflowed the Diversion Channel has faded. That flood came in a rush when the Diversion Channel was unable to carry the combined runoff from the four streams it collects. Past floods have been slower to arrive as Mississippi River water backs up into the channel, but those slower floods bring weeks of work and worry and watching to keep water from overwhelming temporary barriers.

Like the waters of March, external evidence of the flood damage in Dutchtown is fading. But a glimpse inside the homes hit by high water shows that much remains to be done.

Jerry and Linda Mowery are splitting their time between staying in a camper they own and staying with Linda Mowery's mother and father. They had 18 inches of water on the main floor of their home and repairs are underway. "We are just doing what we can to get back in," Linda Mowery said.

But Saturday, rather than working on the house, they were in the lot of Affordable Furniture at a table selling raffle tickets for a backyard shed and other prizes. The levee will mean security, Linda Mowery said. "We just want to protect our homes so we don't get wet again," she said.

The townspeople like their country life, Jerry Mowery said. "Everyone who owns their home wants to come back," he said. "I don't want to leave. I want to stay."

The next steps in the levee effort will be to submit the village's financial plan to the Corps for approval, Parmer said. After that, the village will begin acquiring the land needed for the levee, which will form a half-circle connecting high ground at the three highways.

The effort to build the levee started 10 years ago, Parmer noted. The project stalled for several years but now has momentum, he said. Dutchtown's share of the cost, by law, is 35 percent. He thinks that when the corps evaluates the towns financial plan, it will show that Dutchtown is close.

"If they could make it 30 percent with us paying the other 5 percent later on, we are done," he said. "For a town of 99 to bring in $600,000 in 10 years is pretty good."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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