Buyouts of Pinhook, Morehouse among topics at round-table discussion with Sen. Blunt

Friday, September 2, 2011
Floodwater from the breached Birds Point levee ravaged the small town of Pinhook, Mo. leaving the town void of residents as seen on Thursday, June 16, 2011. (Laura Simon)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- The possible government buyouts of Pinhook and Morehouse, two Southeast Missouri communities devastated by spring flooding, were among the topics that U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt heard about Thursday afternoon during a round-table discussion on infrastructure damage from spring flooding.

Community leaders from the largely African-American village of Pinhook are on board for a $1.7 million buyout for 21 properties, said Steve Duke, executive director of the Bootheel Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission.

"The whole town was completely inundated," Duke said. "They're really interested in participating in a buyout."

The commission has prepared a buyout application that it intends to send to the State Emergency Management Agency.

But Duke, one of five presenters, told Blunt during the hourlong discussion that the people of Pinhook would like to relocate as a community to 40 acres in one of three counties -- Mississippi, New Madrid or Scott.

The commission has looked into the possibility and Duke said there was some possible additional funding up to $20,000 for relocation assistance and help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Pinhook is squarely in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, which was activated in May by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to relieve flooding in other communities upstream.

For his part, Blunt, a Republican, seemed encouraged by the possibility of a buyout but skeptical that the residents could be transplanted to another area together.

"I don't see how you could possibly relocate an entire community for what Pinhook's been valued at," Blunt said. "I'm just having a hard time seeing where you'd get the money."

Duke admitted that it would be a challenge, adding that it may be insurmountable. Blunt added that the community's option is to take the buyout money and "see where they can find a place to live."

In Morehouse, Mayor Pete Leija isn't sold on a government buyout of his New Madrid County town, Duke said. While 41 structures there would be part of a buyout, Leija has not signed off on the idea yet, Duke said.

"He's really uncomfortable with the deed restrictions," Duke said.

Government buyouts require that municipalities maintain the bought-out property and that no improvements can be made, Duke said. Leija is still considering options, Duke said.

Blunt also heard from representatives of the Missouri Department of Transportation, who told him about plans to downsize between now and 2013. District engineer Mark Shelton said MoDOT is working to conform to its new budget of about $500 million to $600 million from its usual $1.2 billion. The reductions are being caused because funding from Constitutional Amendment 3 is drying up. Approved by Missouri voters in 2008, the four-year funding mechanism provided MoDOT with all of the motor vehicle sales tax revenue that previously had been going to general revenue.

"But that's going away and folks aren't in the mood to pay for more," Shelton said.

In June, the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission adopted a plan that will cut MoDOT's staff, facilities and equipment, a move expected to save $512 million.

"We're just going to be getting smaller," Skelton said.

Another MoDOT official told Blunt that the spring flooding took its toll on Southeast Missouri highways and bridges. District planning manager Bill Robison said that 157 roads -- more than 1,400 miles of roadway -- were closed during the flooding.

"It truly was a districtwide event," Robison said.

One particular trouble spot was Interstate 55, where crews worked round-the-clock to protect a one-mile stretch where waters from St. Johns Bayou threatened to invade. While I-55 never closed, the flooding did cause lane reductions, he said.

"We didn't have to close it, but not without a lot of effort," Robison said.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

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2675 N. Main St., Sikeston, MO

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