Olive Branch residents consider moving community to avoid flooding

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Volunteers move furniture by boat from a flooded home along Illinois Route 3 in Olive Branch, Ill. Sunday, May 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- A year after the worst flood longtime residents can remember, many are thinking of moving their community out of the river's path.

A group of those whose homes were destroyed have formed the Olive Branch Area Community Development Corp.

Members, who met Tuesday afternoon at the Alexander County Highway Department office in Olive Branch, plan to apply for not-for-profit status and seek grants to purchase land where they can build a new community.

About 160 families in the Olive Branch area are part of an $11 million Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant application submitted by Alexander County, said Alexander County engineer Jeff Denny.

Although the hazard mitigation application was submitted in September, FEMA hasn't yet notified the county if it will receive the funds. If the grant is approved, the county will use the funds to help those affected by buying their property and razing the homes, elevating their homes or moving their homes.

"When these buyouts come through, if we don't have something, a place for these folks, they are going to leave," resident Billy Pecord said.

Many people have already left the community. Dozens of homes along Miller City road and Highway 3 still sit empty.

The Central Alexander County Public Water District has already lost more than 80 of its 800 customers since last year's flood, said David Willis, district board member.

For those who haven't left yet, their patience is growing thin as they wait on word from FEMA.

"People just don't know what to do. ... Should we wait, or should we get out?" Willis said. Many are staying with friends or family in the meantime. Others repaired their homes enough to make them livable, but if FEMA gives them a buyout option, they'd like to relocate.

Willis moved to a different part of Olive Branch but says he misses his old home. Floodwaters have forced him to pack up and move out eight times.

"I'm 56 years old and I'm just tired of the water chasing me out," he said.

The group has looked at a 90-acres of farmland for sale off Pigeon Roost Road as one place to relocate.

In addition to purchasing the property, which it would then sell off in lots to relocating residents, the not-for-profit corporation would construct roads and run utilities within the area, residents said.

"We're trying to make it so attractive, everyone will want to come over here," Olive Branch resident Jo Owens said.

With help from Southern Illinois University this group of residents has been working on an application for funds from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to purchase land for residents to relocate to.

In addition to providing safe, affordable housing for those relocating after flood buyouts, the group wants to encourage economic development and recreational opportunities at Horseshoe Lake.

"It's just a little country town, but I'd like to see it grow," Willis said.

The Olive Branch Area Community Development Corp.'s next meeting will be at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Alexander County Highway Department office.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

26799 Illinois Highway 3, Olive Branch, Ill.

Map of pertinent addresses

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