By Adam Thorp
Money for a portable floodwall in Clarksville made it out of the legislature and is now before the governor, after the Senate signed off on an appropriations package last week.
State Rep. Jim Hansen has pushed for funding for a portable floodwall for Clarksville at the state capital for the better part of a decade. After a $2 million appropriation passed the Senate last week, Hansen said he is increasingly definitive about getting the flood wall.
“We have the revenue. I don’t see the governor withholding that. It’s done,” Hansen said.
Mayor Jo Anne Smiley, a long-time advocate for the project, was more cautious.
“I don’t have it in my hands yet,” Smiley told Hansen.
In the past, however, promising bids for funding have been dashed at the last moment. For instance, Hansen said, the money in last year’s budget seemed set for passage until it got caught up in the scandal that ultimately prompted the resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens last year.
This year’s effort benefitted from positive revenue estimates for the state.
The funding would cover half of the $4 million cost, with the rest set to be pieced together from federal grants and other sources.
It could be put up in a day with a relatively small team, Smiley said. When erected, the portable floodwall would cover 4-½ blocks along the Clarksville riverfront and then turn a block inland near Clarksville’s post office.
“Our post office is vitally important to us, and if we lose it one more time, we don’t get it back,” Smiley said.
With Clarkville’s public buildings and historic downtown secured, the town will be able shift its efforts to protecting other areas, Smiley said.
“We looked through 13 to 15 different companies to find [the maker of the floodwall the city wants to buy]. We feel still today this is the best solution for us, that will allow us to be independent and makes good sense, in not having to bring so many people in,” Smiley said.
Supporters of the floodwall in the legislature hope it will relieve the financial burden posed by a continual cycle of flooding and cleanup.
“This will be a return on investment in terms of how much the state of Missouri is paying for each flood. It will pay for itself in absolutely no time,” Hansen said.
BLUNT TOURS CLARKSVILLE
Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt heard about the project as he toured the progressively drier river town Saturday.
The news about the floodwall’s progress through the legislature had given the visit a positive tone, Blunt said, as he was shown the wall of sandbags along the Clarksville riverfront.
“This would be a much more troubling visit if our friends in the legislature hadn’t got done what they got done. I was just thinking what this discussion would’ve been like two weeks ago if they hadn’t got this done,” Blunt said.
After the tour, Smiley showed Blunt the building blocks of the portable floodwall and asked him to consider calling Gov. Mike Parson to encourage him to sign the bill.
“I’ll be glad to talk to him about it, but I’m sure [the legislators supporting the project] have that well under control,” Blunt said.
Before the tour Blunt met with some of the people responsible for the town’s successful defense, including the volunteers who ran the flood kitchen in the Clarksville United Methodist Church and volunteers with Americorps.
The flood kitchen served 2,169 meals and logged 1,115.5 volunteer hours in the kitchen so far this flood season. Year after year of flooding have turned the kitchen into a well-oiled machine, volunteers said.
“It’s run more smoothly because we have more experience. And that’s very sad,” said Janie Busch, who helps manage the kitchen.
The Americorps volunteers will be prepared to come back and pitch in but will no longer be stationed out of Clarksville as of Sunday, St. Louis Americorps Director Bruce Bailey said.
RIVER LEVEL CONTINUES TO FALL
The Mississippi River fell steadily last week from near-record highs the weekend before last.
As of around noon Monday the river was at 32.3 feet in Clarksville and 21.8 feet in Louisiana.
The falling river allowed for the reopening of several roads in Pike County in the last week and the reopening of the Champ Clark Bridge.
The North Central River Forecast Center in Minnesota, which is responsible for the Mississippi river past St. Louis, sounded a note of caution Monday in a briefing issued online.
“The region remains vulnerable to any additional rainfall in the coming weeks, and the mainstem rivers are expected to remain above flood stage at most locations through at least the end of the month,” the briefing stated. “The flood of 2019 isn’t over yet.”