WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–July 27, 2011. U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) announced that the Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to look into how the approval process for upgrades to the Metro East levees system can be expedited to avoid delays that could drive up project costs. In a meeting earlier today, Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy assured the Illinois members that she would report back within one week with her findings. A representative from the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council also attended the meeting.
“Communities in Southwestern Illinois are ready to begin upgrades to their levee systems, but without a permit construction costs are sure to rise and homes and businesses are left vulnerable,” said Durbin. “While the Army Corps of Engineers has a responsibility to ensure that upgrades meet certain quality and safety standards so the work is done right the first time, unnecessary delays can and should be avoided. I look forward to hearing Assistant Secretary Darcy’s assessment and will work with her to expedite this process.”
“An unnecessary, long and expensive delay by Washington bureaucrats is not in the interest of the Metro East communities that need flood protection,” Senator Kirk said. “No one disagrees that the local engineers from the Army Corps play an important role in ensuring the proper design of the levee improvements. But particularly when the local community has come up with all the funds for the project, we should cut unneeded red tape that serves only to add costs and delay the start of work. It is my hope that after reviewing the details of the situation, Assistant Secretary Darcy makes the right call and puts this project on the fast track.”
“We had a productive meeting this afternoon and the Assistant Secretary has pledged to work quickly to get us answers,” said Costello. “Preparations at the local level are proceeding well and it is imperative that the Corps works with local leaders and does not serve as an impediment to beginning construction. We made it very clear that we believe the scope of this work calls for review by the St. Louis District, not Washington, D.C.”
“Local leaders in the three counties have worked diligently to solve the levee problems, which were not of their making,” said Shimkus. “All we are asking the Corps of Engineers to do is provide a speedy process for consideration of the necessary permits. Lengthy delays will only increase the time and money spent on the project.”
Earlier this month, the head of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, Les Sterman, alerted the members to the consequences of a delay in the permit approval process including possible project cost increases and lost construction time. He explained that a Section 408 permit – which the Corps has suggested this project would need – must be approved at the headquarters in Washington, as opposed to a Section 208 permit which is approved at the local Corps district level. It can take anywhere from 120 days to 6 months to get a Section 408 permit approved. Shortly after the meeting, in a letter to Darcy, the Illinois lawmakers asked the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the approval process.
Last month, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council released a 5-year, $151 million plan to upgrade the levee systems in Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties to the 100-year flood protection standard. This upgrade would further protect the region in the event of a major flood and prevent residents and businesses from having to pay increased flood insurance premiums when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s new Flood Insurance Rate Maps from taking effect. Approval by the Army Corps of Engineers is required for work on the levees to move forward.
In March, at the urging of Congress, FEMA announced its decision to end its practice of using the “without levee” designation – a policy of disregarding some levees and flood control structures in its process of updating Flood Insurance Rate Maps. Previously, in cases where FEMA treated a flood control structure as if it has been completely wiped off the map, it may have been unnecessarily devaluing property and hurting the economies of cities, towns, counties and businesses.
Durbin, Kirk, Costello and Shimkus have been working together with federal, state and local officials to prevent residents and businesses from facing unreasonably high flood insurance rates while ensuring they are financially protected in the event of a flood. Previously, in response to a 2008 request from Durbin and Costello, FEMA agreed to prevent Illinois residents and businesses from facing significantly higher flood insurance premiums years before their Missouri counterparts. This move leveled the playing field in the St. Louis region and ensured that FEMA’s new flood maps would not take effect on the Illinois side of the Mississippi before the Missouri side.