McClure seeks incorporation to ease rules on flood areas

Monday, October 18, 2004

McCLURE, Ill. -- A state highway sign on Illinois Highway 3 tells motorists they're entering McClure. But legally the small town is nowhere, an unincorporated collection of mostly small frame homes and family businesses that have to abide by Alexander County building restrictions.

That may be changing. A measure on the Nov. 2 ballot seeks to incorporate the town of about 350 people as a village and establish a town board. A simple majority is needed for passage.

Dissatisfaction with Alexander County flood-plain regulations sparked the campaign by residents to incorporate.

A fire caused by an electrical short in a toaster destroyed Cheryle Dillon's modular home in McClure on May 9, 2003, and fueled frustration over Alexander County flood-plain regulations that wouldn't allow her and her husband to rebuild their home. They had to buy an existing home in the town.

That frustration led Dillon and others to push to incorporate the small town as a village so they can get clear of the flood-plain law and allow for new construction.

"You could build a home, but only if you put it on stilts 17 feet to 18 feet high," said McClure resident Rodney Brown, who has helped lead the fight for incorporation.

"As an unincorporated area, we didn't have any rights," he said.

Brown said he and others can't even build additions to their homes or businesses because of the county's flood-plain regulations, prompted by efforts by Alexander County officials to have the county reinstated in the federal flood insurance program.

An elementary school is located in McClure. "If the school burns down right now, we can't rebuild it," he said. "That just isn't right."

The county has not participated in the flood insurance program for at least 16 years, Brown said.

Until four years ago, there were no restrictions on construction in the unincorporated areas of the county, he said.

But in 2000 the county commission adopted flood-plain regulations for unincorporated areas of the Southern Illinois county as a step toward seeking reinstatement to the federal flood control program, Brown said.

If the town incorporates, town leaders then could ask the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw the flood-plain lines.

"We want our area taken out of the flood plain," Brown said.

Protected by levee

An earthen levee along the Mississippi River protects both McClure and the neighboring incorporated village of East Cape Girardeau.

"The only way we get flooded is if the levee breaks," Brown said.

Said Dillon, "We want to do what we think is best for our community."

Down the road that could include installation of sewers and a park, and hiring of a police officer to patrol the town, Dillon and Brown suggested.

Such suggestions have come up at a town meeting where the incorporation issue was discussed. Most residents support the incorporation measure, Brown and Dillon said.

"We want to take local control," Brown said.

He and Dillon were so adamant about removing the flood-plain restrictions that they both ran for county commissioner in the March primary. Brown ran as a Republican; Dillon as a Democrat. Both lost but then turned their attention to petitioning the circuit court to get the issue on the ballot.

"We are pretty fortunate we both lost," Brown said of the current incorporation effort.

The new village would cover nearly two square miles and extend southward to just south of the intersection of highways 3 and 146, including the flea market at that junction.

Few new towns are organized in Illinois today. "There have only been about a dozen in the last 10 years," said Andrew Ross, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in Springfield.

Raymond "Bud" Burchyett, 79, who has operated a barbershop in McClure for more than half a century, plans to vote for the measure. He likes the idea of local control and keeping local tax dollars in the community.

Burchyett said McClure residents currently have to look to the county commission in Cairo, Ill., when it comes to services. "We need something done so we don't have to go down and ask for it," said Burchyett.

Supporters of the ballot measure said incorporation won't create any added tax burden. The town already is served by public water and fire districts, and gas and electric utilities.

The main road through town, Grapevine Trail, is maintained by the county. The town would only have to maintain a few side streets, Dillon and Brown said.

If organized as a village, McClure would receive its share of state tax money from motor fuel, income and sales taxes. Dillon and Brown said that could amount to about $27,000 a year.

335-6611, extension 123

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