Dutchtown candidates hope to stop town floods
Saturday, April 4, 2009
When the residents of Dutchtown incorporated in 1998, the No. 1 reason was to use the status as an official village to secure money for a flood control project. When massive rains sent floodwaters surging through town last year, it not only damaged most of the homes in this town of 100, it also exposed conflicts among village leaders over a proposed levee.
Soon after the flood, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers met with townspeople and revealed that the anticipated cost of the levee had risen from $2.97 million to more than $4 million, meaning the town's 35 percent share would be $1.4 million instead of $1 million.
Since then, the village board has replaced longtime chairman H.W. "Bud" Obermann. And because the expense of a major levee was more than the village of 100 residents could bear even with state-directed grants, a plan has emerged to put up a more modest barrier that would protect property during all but the largest floods.
On Tuesday, in the first election since the floods, six candidates are vying for three spots on the village board of trustees. Of the six candidates on the Tuesday ballot, the Southeast Missourian interviewed five. They appear united in their hopes that the village can, in a short period of time, complete at least a modest flood-protection project. Kris Golden, the sixth candidate on the ballot, did not return messages.
The project planned by the corps would build a major levee around the town and farmland to the south of the village, keeping Highway 74, Highway 25 and Route A open during major floods.
"We couldn't afford their levee and what we are considering is a smaller, scaled-down version would protect the town and not so far out," said Angela Crutsinger, chairwoman of the town board and a candidate for re-election.
Town leaders took an active role in recruiting candidates for the ballot, even if it meant those in office are voted out, Crutsinger said. "It was a different process this time," she said. "It wasn't if they find out there is an election they can run. We took a proactive approach to it."
Another incumbent board member, Shirley A. Moss, said future success will depend on having a board where all the members work well together. "The only way to conduct the business of the town is for everybody to get along," said Moss, who operates Affordable Merchandise at the intersection of highways 74 and 25.
The other candidates for board positions are Christina Parmer, daughter of town clerk Doyle Parmer, Dustin Hoesli, an insurance representative who moved to town since the flood, and Jerry Mowery, a resident who was out of his home from March until July due to water damage.
Parmer also emphasizes cooperation and information sharing as the two most important attributes newcomers can bring to the village board. "I am confident if we can get new people on the board, things will be better. That is my goal, to bring fresh ideas. I will just work hard at it. We need to get some young people in there and hopefully change things."
The top problem with changing from the corps-planned $4 million levee to a more modest flood control structure is finances. The city has a commitment of more than $300,000 from a Community Development Block Grant through the state, but the money is earmarked for the big levee solution. Another hurdle will be persuading landowners where the levee will be built that they should help.
Parmer said she and Golden are running as a partnership. Golden has the skills to persuade any recalcitrant landowners, she said. "She knows how to persuade people," Parmer said.
Hoesli is selling his candidacy as a fresh look at the town issues from the outside. He said the smaller levee seems to be the right idea. "I don't know the answers, but I know how to ask the questions," Hoesli said. "If you can do something simple, that probably would be the best bet."
Unlike Parmer and Moss, Mowery isn't a lifelong resident of the area. But he's lived in Dutchtown long enough, about six years, to know what it means when Mississippi River backwaters threaten the town. "I think if things are handled right we can get something done, but it is a matter of who will listen to us talk in the higher offices."
The major levee is beyond Dutchtown's resources, Mowery said. "At the rate the cost is rising for the one the corps wants to build, we will never get that," he said. "We have to take alternative measures to save the town."