Dutchtown levee is benefit for region

Saturday, June 15, 2002

By Bob Moss

DUTCHTOWN, Mo. -- I find it very hard to understand the arrogance of those who presume themselves to be wise enough to know what's best for everyone else.

I am addressing my remarks to the issue of Dutchtown flooding. In 1972, when I purchased my property, there had never been a flood in Dutchtown. At the time of the flood of 1973, we were told it was a 100-year flood. Lo and behold, 10 years later we had another 100-year flood. You'd think we were good for 200 years, wouldn't you? No such luck. Ten years later, in 1993, we experienced the granddaddy of all floods of the 500-year variety.

By this time I was ready to sell and listed our home and business property with real-estate agents. Would you believe it? Not one inquiry. I know it's not because I was too high on the price. No one ever asked the price. I wonder if it was the floods.

So since we couldn't sell, we began thinking about protecting ourselves with a permanent levee. But two years after the 500-year flood of 1993, we were hit with another 100-year flood in 1995. This was the last straw. The cause of all this increased flooding, we believe, was the tremendous urbanization and paving all over thousands of acres of natural watershed in addition to flood-control projects on the upper river.

Several residents of Dutchtown began discussions with the Cape Girardeau County Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and anyone else who would listen. The county commissioners at that time were Gerald Jones, Larry Bock and Max Stovall. They went out of their way to be helpful and considerate. We were advised that the first step would be to incorporate as a village. Then we would be a legal entity instead of just a group of people.

With H.W. "Bud" Obermann spearheading the effort, we held an election. Voters overwhelmingly voted to incorporate. We elected a board of trustees. The date of incorporation was Groundhog Day -- Feb. 2, 1998. Obermann was elected chairman of the village board.

After getting a feasibility study funded, we were on our way. Obermann led us through a maze of regulations and political minefields from the very beginning to where we are now: very close to a successful conclusion. If this levee becomes a reality, I believe it should be named the Bud Obermann Levee. Without him, there would be no levee -- now or ever.

During subsequent elections, the voters of Dutchtown approved a 32-cent property tax on each $100 of assessed valuation and a 1-cent sales tax to help fund the levee and for future maintenance. In other words, the people of Dutchtown did not sit and wait for someone else to do it for them. Many fund raisers were held, including yard sales, hot dog stands, pork-burger stands, raffles and anything else we could do.

Then came the next 100-year flood of 2002. Southeast Missouri residents finally realized this levee was not just a Dutchtown issue. It was a regional necessity. When Highways 25 and 74 and Route A were closed by water, commuters were in gridlock on I-55 for hours every day. No one could get to Cape Girardeau from the south without long detours and even longer delays. There was no access from the south to hospitals, doctors or shopping. No fire trucks, ambulances or police protection could get south of Dutchtown without long delays and many extra miles of travel. Residents in emergency situations had to resort to helicopter evacuation.

This levee would not only protect Dutchtown, but it also has the tremendous benefit of being designed to help keep Highways 25 and 74 and Route A open during these frequent periods of flooding. Millions of dollars of lost business, lost sales-tax revenue, extra expenses for motorists, the cost of temporary levees -- not to mention the safety and well-being of thousands of citizens -- make the cost of this permanent solution seem insignificant.

That is why all residents of Southeast Missouri should take an interest in helping Dutchtown raise the funds to make this permanent solution a reality. Everyone will benefit. Everyone needs to help. After all, Dutchtown has done all the work.

The women of Dutchtown accepted donations at the Highway 25-74 and Route A intersection in empty sandbags from motorists using the newly opened roads after the recent flooding. This effort was very successful and was guided by Joy-Ann Smith. Several of the young women made and placed cans for donations in many area businesses. All of this was to raise the funds for the local portion of the levee.

The Corps of Engineers in Memphis should have a special place in heaven. The Corps has worked with us in every crisis. It has saved us many times, and has helped guide us through the long process of designing and planning this levee.

One final point: Some of our neighbors fear the construction of our permanent levee will push additional water onto them. I have heard this fear voiced by some folks in Allenville in particular. According to the Corps of Engineers, the levee will not increase the water at Allenville by even one inch. The actual quote was, "It will be like pouring a cup of water in the Diversion Channel."

When the Diversion Channel overflows, it spreads over hundreds of thousands of acres. The very small area protected by the Dutchtown levee will not affect Allenville in the least. And if everyone would stop and think: What is the difference in the amount of water displaced by a permanent levee and a temporary one? None, of course, except the permanent levee will only have to be built once and will help to keep the roads open. At least the folks in Allenville will have access across Route A, and emergency vehicles will be able to get to that part of the district.

We are now on the threshold of the conclusion of this long effort. At our village board meeting June 6, we signed the application for the block grant for the state-funded portion of the funds needed for the levee. We will know in 60 to 90 days if the grant is approved. Most of the experts believe it will be successful. If not, we will resume the fight next year.

Dutchtown has taken on Goliath, and we will prevail, with God's help.

Donations may be made to the levee fund by mailing them to: Village of Dutchtown, P.O. Box 5, Dutchtown, Mo. 63745.

Bob Moss is the Dutchtown village clerk.

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