Illinois Lawmakers Ask Army Corps to Expedite Permit Process Ahead of Metro East Levees Meeting

WASHINGTON, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–July 8, 2011.  Following Thursday’s meeting with the head of the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, Les Sterman, Illinois lawmakers today asked Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy of the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite the approval process for upgrades to the Metro East levees system and ensure that the repairs are done quickly and cost-effectively.  Over the last few weeks, Sterman and others have alerted the members of potential delays in the approval process.

“We, along with the people in Metro East, are eager to ensure the safety of all the people, homes, and properties in Southwestern Illinois,” the Illinois members wrote.  “Metro East officials have raised a significant amount of revenue to make improvements required by the Army Corps to the Metro East levees.  Every week and month that goes by before the Army Corps issues permit approval makes the project more expensive and delays the completion of this important work.” 

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Congressmen Jerry Costello (D-IL) and John Shimkus (R-IL) hope to discuss this request in a meeting with Darcy as soon as possible.  They sent a letter last week as communities that are ready to upgrade their levees in order to better protect the region during a major flood event and prevent unreasonably high flood insurance rates have been unable to move forward without permit approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Last month, the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council released a 5-year, $161 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.

[Text of the letter is below]

July 8, 2011

The Honorable Jo-Ellen Darcy

Assistant Secretary of the Army, Civil Works

U.S. Department of the Army

108 Army Pentagon, Room 3E446

Washington, DC 20310

Dear Assistant Secretary Darcy:

In anticipation of our meeting to discuss flood protection system repairs planned by the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, we would like to share with you specific questions we hope you can address during the meeting. 

As you know, on June 28th, our offices were contacted by representatives of the Council who are concerned about securing approval from the Army Corps of Engineers so they can begin their planned repairs.  We, along with the people in Metro East, are eager to ensure the safety of all the people, homes, and properties in Southwestern Illinois.  Metro East officials have raised a significant amount of revenue to make improvements required by the Army Corps to the Metro East levees.  Every week and month that goes by before the Army Corps issues permit approval makes the project more expensive and delays the completion of this important work.

What can we do to expedite the permitting process without compromising public safety?  Can the permitting be handled at the local, district level, which we understand is able to process permits much more quickly?   What can the Army Corps do to help the local community in this situation?  Can the agency provide an expedited permitting process, for example? 

We want to ensure appropriate steps are taken in preparation for the flood protection system repairs, including proper permitting required by the Army Corps.  Our primary goal is the safety of the people of Metro East.

Thank you for your cooperation.  We look forward to meeting with you soon.

Sincerely,

Source: durbin.senate.gov