Dutchtown trying again to construct levee with grant

Friday, May 17, 2002

DUTCHTOWN, Mo. -- As the thunder clapped and raindrops began to fall Thursday evening, about 50 people gathered inside a warehouse at Affordable Merchandise to hear about the status of a state grant that could keep them out of the floodwaters.

Representatives from the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning Commission are filing a Community Development Block Grant application on behalf of Dutchtown residents. The $923,000 grant proposal would cover costs for construction of a levee that would keep the town from flooding when water rises.

The 7,200-foot-long levee would be 12 feet tall and would tie into the Highway 74 levee and cut across Highway 25 on the west side. There would still be a gap along Highway 25 that would have to be sandbagged if waters reached the 50-year floodplain level.

But until that plan is realized, a temporary levee has been built to keep the rising waters out of town. Highway 25 has been closed at its intersection with Highway 74, which is creating traffic delays on Interstate 55.

But traffic delays and rising waters are only some of the concerns with this project. In a town of barely 250 residents, the problem is finding enough matching funds to complete the levee work, should the grant be approved. The city must pay for $323,000 of the project. So far only $25,000 has been collected through property and sales taxes and fund-raising.

Dutchtown's grant proposal was rejected last year. They must file their current application by June 15, and expect to receive an answer sometime in September.

Yet that doesn't mean the effort is wasted, said Bud Moss, a member of the town board. Levee proposals for Bismarck, Mo., took three applications before getting approved by the state, he said.

"Just because it's not what we're hoping for doesn't mean something's not going to happen," Moss said.

Tom Tucker, director of the Regional Planning Commission, said he wasn't ready to give up. He said the city had good odds for getting its levee approved this year. "You just don't know what you're competing with statewide," Tucker said.

Sandbags and gravel

But residents do know about battles with the river. As the meeting ended 40 minutes later, many went back to work sandbagging or helping load gravel for construction of a temporary levee along Highway 74 at its intersection with Highway 25.

Tina King's home is already surrounded by water and the rains that fell will only make the situation worse. She and her husband, Terry, moved most of their belongings out to prevent them from getting damaged by rising waters.

"We've sandbagged and got everything out so we can just hope for the best," she said.

Forecasters with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., issued a flood watch for the region at midnight and it continues through today. Between 1 and 3 inches of rain is expected to fall across Southeast Missouri today.

That rainfall will only aggravate the flooding of creeks and rivers already overflowing their banks, said Pat Spoden, a forecaster for the weather service.

There is the potential for heavier rain north of Cape Girardeau and into the St. Louis area. That rain will only compound flooding problems downstream.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 47 feet on Sunday, but the crest could come later depending on the rainfall, Spoden said.

"If we put one to three inches on top of that, it could either raise the crest or slow it down," he said. "It's a wait and see type of thing on what it will do to the rivers."

That's exactly what Dutchtown residents plan to do, said H.W. "Bud" Obermann, chairman of the town board. "We don't know if the rain will stop in 30 minutes or continue until midnight."

Once the rain passes, the forecast for next week is dry, cooler weather, Spoden said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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