(ADAM VOGLER) [Order this photo]
More than $40 million in projects to reconstruct and reinforce levee and drainage systems throughout the county are ongoing or will soon begin. The projects of the largest scale and cost are in or near Cairo, home to around 2,700 people and the county seat that was nearly drowned during 2011's record-setting flooding.
The largest of the levees along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers surrounding Cairo weren't topped by the water, and levels fell after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers activated the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway in Missouri, but seepage underneath the levees caused large sand boils to appear throughout town. Some smaller inland levees did fail.
Some local officials said the condition of the county's systems exacerbated the problems. Maintenance was long overdue, they said, and they blamed the corps. But those attitudes have now shifted some, officials say.
No complaints about the $46 million in flood recovery projects in Cairo that are being performed under corps supervision are coming from the town's mayor, Tyrone Coleman. He said he believes what is happening is an indication of better things to come for Cairo, a city that has been plagued for decades with a dwindling population, decaying buildings and high rates of poverty and crime.
"They [the corps] see something for this area," he said. "We may not see it. The people who live here may not see it. But I just don't see that the government would commit that kind of money and not see something in the future for their investment."
The projects overseen by the corps in Cairo will bring a level of protection from flooding the city has never seen, corps representatives say.
A $26 million ongoing project in Cairo along the Ohio River will increase protection provided by the floodwall and help prevent erosion of the riverbank, said Regina Kuykendoll Cash, a corps project manager. The work should be finished around December.
An additional $20 million is being used to correct seepage underneath the Mississippi and Ohio river levees around Cairo.
The Mississippi River levee will receive an addition of a 7,200-foot slurry trench, and 28 relief wells are under construction near the river. A 5,400-foot slurry trench and two berms will be added to the Ohio River levee and 31 relief wells will be constructed on that side.
Kuykendoll Cash said the projects are designed to prevent seepage in a future flood; she estimated all projects will be completed throughout 2013.
Another project will flatten the slope of the Mississippi River levee and widen its crown.
North of Cairo, smaller towns in Alexander County should also be better protected from major flooding in the future thanks to ongoing projects, county officials say.
Improvement work on pump stations, drainage systems and small levees throughout the county are taking place, according to Jeff Denny, Alexander County's engineer. Projects are funded by the county matching funds with the corps and combinations of grants from the Delta Regional Authority and the state.
"We should be in a better position than we ever have before," Denny said.
Additions of large culverts to levees should better protect communities like East Cape Girardeau, McClure, Gale and Ware, Denny said.
Alexander County Board chairman Michael Caldwell said the ongoing creation of a larger drainage system that runs throughout Alexander and Union counties will also make a major difference in keeping water from collecting in low-lying areas in both counties.
Floodwaters destroyed 25 homes, severely damaged 115 and damaged around 300 homes in Alexander County in 2011, according to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.
Caldwell said he thinks the county's future is improving with all of the ongoing projects, but that there are still many people trying to recover from the flood and some, although the numbers are dwindling, are still waiting on help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"People just want to move on with their lives," he said.
Projects that will increase protection from floodwaters in Cairo and throughout the county match several recommendations made by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in a flood damage reduction study for Alexander County released in March.