By Adam Thorp
CLARKSVILLE – An influx of money ought to be, if nothing else, an improvement on the unrelenting influx of water Clarksville has had to put up for the past few months —especially if the former helps prevent the latter.
Gov. Mike Parson signed off on $2 million in state money for new flood defenses in Clarksville Monday.
State Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) confirmed to the Louisiana Press-Journal Monday afternoon that the version of House Bill 19 signed by the governor included the money.
His signature marks a breakthrough in the more-than-a decade long fight for a portable, quickly erectable flood wall for Clarksville, which is still emerging from a near-historic inundations this flood season. That fight isn’t over yet: the full cost of the project is $4 million. The city hopes to leverage the $2 million from the state to secure federal disaster mitigation funding.
Mayor Jo Anne Smiley, one of the flood walls chief champions, has portrayed what she calls the “flood defense system” as a key to independence for Clarksville, which has had to rely on a variety of outside help every time the city faced rising waters. Per Smiley, the flood wall could be built up from its pre-existing foundation by nine people in a day and a half.
The four-and-a-half block long wall would line the historic Clarksville riverfront and then hook around to protect the town’s post office, which was inundated in this year’s flooding. The component pieces of the wall would slot into a pre-set foundation, quickly building to a height of – feet along an area it would have taken several times as long to sandbag.
With that part of the town secure, including the picturesque buildings lining First and Howard Street, the city’s defenders could focus on other areas, many of which had to fend for themselves during this year’s flooding.
“I am eternally grateful, I am excited for this community, and I am hopeful,” Smiley said. Smiley added that the city still has “a long way” to go to get the rest of the funding.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, has been pushing for money for the project since his first term several years ago. The bill money had made it past the Missouri House and Senate in the past only to be nixed before they got the governor’s signature. It had been eliminated by Gov. Jay Nixon in a fit of budgetary belt-tightening, and fatally caught up in the conflict with the legislature that forced the resignation of scandal-plagued Gov. Eric Greitens, according to Hansen.
Reached by phone Monday, Hansen was pleased with the news.
“It’s in there, and things are good,” Hansen said. “I’m proud of the fact that I was able to help do that.”
Hansen, Smiley, State Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin and various Clarksville residents tried to impress the importance of the project on Parson when he toured the damage in the city the weekend before last.
At the time, Parson refused to be pinned down on the issue.
“I know that the day will be coming to make a decision on that,” Parson said at the time. “But I very much know its there, and I know how important it is to you.”
A little more than a week later, Parson’s decision came — and Clarksville’s ship came in with it.