Olive Branch relocation group waits for word on FEMA funds, not-for-profit status

Wednesday, August 29, 2012
After last year´s historic flood, residents in Olive Branch are making plans to move their community to higher ground to avoid future flooding. While many are hoping to receive a Federal Emergency Management Agency buy out, these homes off Highway 3 in the heart of Olive Branch are already listed for sale. (MELISSA MILLER)

OLIVE BRANCH, Ill. -- Residents who lost their homes during last year's historic flood are making progress toward relocating their community out of the Mississippi River's path.

The Olive Branch Area Community Development Corp. met Tuesday with advisers from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale to discuss the group's next steps. The organization is now registered as a corporation with the state of Illinois and is seeking a 501(c)3 not-for-profit status. About 160 families in the Olive Branch area are part of an $11 million Federal Emergency Management Agency hazard mitigation grant application submitted nearly a year ago by Alexander County.

FEMA hasn't yet notified the county if they will receive the funds, but SIU geology professor Nicholas Pinter told the group FEMA officials in Chicago told him the application was approved.

"It's all green lights. The news is all good," Pinter said.

Once the county receives notification from FEMA and receives the grant funds it may need to hire an outside consulting firm or an internal staff member to oversee the distribution of these funds, Pinter said. The FEMA grant can be used to purchase property and raze homes, elevate homes or move homes to a safer location. It does allow for 1 percent of the funds to go toward administrative expenses, Pinter said.

During a strategic planning session in May community members worked with SIU architect and professor Craig Anz, who presented the development corporation with a document Tuesday outlining the community's vision and design proposals.

The group has identified a nearly 100-acre parcel off Pigeon Roost Road north of Olive Branch as a future location for the town.

With help from grants, the corporation could purchase the land and then sell individual parcels to residents and businesses. The plan outlines future residential areas, park developments and a new commercial district all out of the flood zone.

The strategic plan also indicates an assisted living center development and a health care center, both of which are priorities for the development commission. Plans for this property also showed 75 potential parcels for residential development.

Olive Branch property owner Robert Browning came to Tuesday's meeting to offer 80 acres of land he owns off Highway 3 west of Olive Branch to the commission.

"It would be nice because it would be connected to town," said Alexander County engineer Jeff Denny.

Pinter encouraged the group to select a site and move forward by securing an option to buy the property.

"It's not too early to have that stuff in motion," Pinter said. "The [FEMA] award could happen with no warning. Already it has stretched out far longer than it should have. We don't want to delay it."

Pinter encouraged the corporation or the county to apply for a portion of the $200 million Congress approved for disaster assistance last year. Of this amount, Illinois received $18.75 million and grant applications are being accepted now. Greenburg, Kan., was awarded more than $2 million to build roads and electric and sewer lines to help the town recover from disaster.

"It's a bull's-eye match for the needs of Olive Branch as it moves forward," Pinter said. "FEMA buys things out, this builds the new infrastructure to support the rebuilding effort.

While the FEMA grant could help purchase property to move the town, these community development block grant funds through the U.S. Department of Economic Development could help pay for streets, utilities and other infrastructure needs.

"The opportunity has been open for several months now, but here we are in August. There is still money, but Olive Branch doesn't have anything in for it," Pinter said.

The county did apply for a grant through Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity earlier this year asking for funds to conduct a site study and environmental assessment for the property that will be chosen to relocate the town.

Pinter said after SIU staff working on the grant application were "run in circles" by the Southern Five Regional Planning Commission and state DCEO officials, they were told there was no longer any disaster assistance funding available. He encouraged residents to talk to their local politicians.

"How is it of all of their priorities none of it trickled down to Olive Branch?" Pinter said.

The development corporation has decided to continue to meet weekly, with its next meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The corporation's president, Sidney Miller, said Rep. Brandon Phelps would be invited to attend.



Pertinent address:

Highway 3, Olive Branch, Ill.

Map of pertinent addresses

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