Dealing with Disaster - Flood Plain Concerns
You'd hope our leaders learned their lessons 12 years ago to be ready for the next flood. But some aren't so sure. More than 14,000 of the acres that were covered with flood water in Missouri in 1993 are now covered with billions of dollars worth of businesses. So is the commercial devastation in the Gulf Coast a sober reminder to the Missouri powers that be? The criticism is those in the business of preventing floods have a short memory when it comes to dealing with disaster.
"After the '93 flood, as devastating as it was, we were all told by the federal, state and local people that there would be no more development in the 100 year confluence flood plain, that area that was under water," explained Great River Habitat Alliance's Adolphus Busch. "And that lasted for about four or five years and then suddenly the development started back at a feverish pace again."
But what business would want to make its home in an area destined to be destroyed again? A lot of them actually.
"Some developers are willing to take that risk. 100 year floods, 500 year floods. They may be fortunate and never see it in their lifetime, but they may not be fortunate and see it this coming spring," explained SEMA Director Ron Reynolds.
And who's allowing it? The St. Louis district of the Corp of Engineers is responsible for issuing permits to build in the flood plain, but accepts none of the blame.
"The Corp stands it's not a Corp issue. Flood plain development belongs to the state and other agencies," said Dave Bussse.
Missouri is no model for property damage prevention when it comes to floods. The Great River Habitat Alliance claims Illinois is 10 times more restrictive placing floodway lines. KOMU found Missouri has granted more than 200 more new construction flood plain permits than Illinois. And more development brings new levees lines and less room for water relief. In fact, Missouri is allowing developers to squeeze its rivers' boundaries tighter and tighter, surrendering acres of water buffer zones to business.
"That's what the flood plains are for. They're not called flood plains for no reason and they're also not called development plains," Busch said.
A reality that sets up an even more frightening scenario than 1993.
"Obviously the more land you take out of the flood plain, you would expect where the water can go would be higher," Pat O'Donnell said.
"It takes far less volume of water to have the same or higher levels of water when you have these flood situations," Busch said.
If you had the same volume of water come down the river as in '93, you'd notice an considerably higher level. One to three foot higher. And with just more than a foot to spare at the St. Louis floodwall in 1993, it could mean our state could s uffer devastation like parts of New Orleans. And if floods destroy developed areas like Boone's Crossing experts say you can expect to foot the bill.
"Those businesses don't even bother to buy flood insurance. So when that happens the government walks in and just says that's alright, the tax payers will just cover it," Busch explained.
The latest project threatening the St. Louis area flood plain is in St. Peters. The city wants to build a new 30 foot 4.2 mile levee for a new $70 million business park. If St. Peters is successful, it'll develop 16 hundred acres of land that was 25 feet under water in 1993. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources signed off on moving the St. Peter's levee just as St. Louis began receiving evacuees from New Orleans flooding.