Flood damage to county, state roads tops $81 million

Sunday, July 10, 2011
With its bridge destroyed by floodwaters, Mississippi County Road 310 south of Wyatt, Mo., remains impassable Friday. County officials say restoring damaging roads will cost millions of dollars. (Fred Lynch)

Months after the floodwaters receded, miles and miles of Southeast Missouri roads are still in need of repairs.

The Missouri Department of Transportation has already shelled out $1.2 million in its Southeast District to fix flood-damaged roads.

Damage to state and county roads as a result of this spring's severe flooding exceeds $81 million, according to estimates provided to the Southeast Missourian by MoDOT and individual counties.

Much of the costs are expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's public assistance grant program. It's still unclear how much of a match state and local governments will have to come up with to receive the grants.

In June, Gov. Jay Nixon asked the federal government to cover 100 percent of the costs to repair public infrastructure damaged by storms and flooding that began in Missouri on April 19.

Floodwaters that washed out a section of Mississippi County Road 310 south of Wyatt, Mo. carved out a small pond. A bridge was also destroyed further east. (Fred Lynch)

"We are still awaiting a determination from FEMA on that request," said Scott Holste, spokesman for the governor.

Nixon has already committed at least $25 million to help specifically with the recovery costs for Southeast Missouri, Holste said.

In Mississippi County, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the levee holding back the Mississippi River at Birds Point to relieve pressure downstream, bridges have washed away and roads are now divided by deep crevices cut by the rushing waters.

It will cost about $75 million to restore Mississippi County's wrecked roads, according to Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett.

MoDOT has already done about $50,000 worth of repairs and anticipates it will cost another $300,000 for asphalt overlays needed on 24 miles of state-maintained roads in Mississippi County.

Bennett said he met last week with FEMA officials to discuss what's needed to get county roads, ditches and bridges back into shape.

"Hopefully money is coming pretty quickly because we're getting down to the bone on our road fund," Bennett said.

He's hopes FEMA will waive its traditional 25 percent match requirement for public assistance projects because he knows Mississippi County can't come close to meeting it.

Even a 10 percent match would require Mississippi County to come up with $7.5 million. The county's annual road budget is only $1 million, Bennett said.

"Our county collects $5 million a year in revenue. Even a 1 percent match is $750,000. Do you think we have that just laying around? It's a real quandary for us," he said.

Bennett hopes the county may receive a federal waiver and said something similar was done for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

The county has half a dozen roads in the floodway cut by gullies 100 to 200 feet wide, Bennett said. The roads must either be rebuilt or new roads have to be constructed around the damaged areas.

"We've got to get a road back in place so farmers can get into their fields," Bennett said.

One bridge, along County Road 310, was washed away. After inspections, weight restrictions were tightened on four bridges, he said.

As repair plans move forward, the county will have to make some tough choices and some county roads may be abandoned in order to stretch limited resources, he said.

For example, County Road 310 and County Road 312, two of the most heavily damaged roads, sit a mile apart. The county may repair one and abandon the other, Bennett said.

In neighboring New Madrid County, Presiding Commissioner Clyde Hawes estimates $2.1 million in damaged county roads. New Madrid County is home to about 22,000 acres of spillway and the town of Morehouse, about two-thirds of which was under several feet of water in early May.

"It was very devastating to New Madrid County and the people who live in that area," Hawes said. "This is something we've never experienced. It's caused a magnitude of problems for our county, but we are all working together on it."

New Madrid County also lost a bridge in the floodway on County Road 740. Its county highway department has been making repairs as it can.

"We've had culverts washed out we've started replacing and roads washed out we've had to rebuild," he said. County crews have also been cleaning up debris from previously flooded roads and along the levee. In New Madrid County, MoDOT has already spent $330,000 in its immediate response during the flood and on repairs since waters receded. The cost includes efforts to build temporary berms to keep water off U.S. 60 in Morehouse and to pump water off Interstate 55 at St. John's Bayou.

The last time Southeast Missouri saw similar road damage was during 2008, said Keith Gentry, maintenance superintendent for MoDOT's Southeast District.

"Compared to the '08 flood, this was more of a saturating rain, not a flash flood. We've got damage, but we didn't have near the roadway damage we were anticipating," Gentry said.

In many places, MoDOT has already made temporary repairs to roads and will wait for approval from federal highway officials before making permanent repairs.

The week of July 18 a federal highway inspector will look at damage in the area, Gentry said.

MoDOT county damage estimates include:

* Cape Girardeau County: $40,000 spent so far.

* Scott County: $35,000 spent so far, $10,000 to $20,000 additional spending estimated.

* Stoddard County: $200,000 so far, $20,000 additional spending estimated.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

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