Wednesday, January 24, 2018
News Roundup

Small Missouri city can't pay for flood protection

CLARKSVILLE, Mo. — For years, tiny Clarksville has paid for temporary sandbag walls to protect its quaint business district and historic waterfront homes from Mississippi River flooding. But unwilling to raid its coffers again despite rising water levels, the city has left individual merchants and residents to safeguard their own property.

After an unusually calm spring, the river is raging. Recent heavy rains in the upper Midwest have caused a sudden surge in the water level and by the middle of next week, the National Weather Service is projecting it to reach 9 feet above flood stage in Clarksville.

At that level and without sandbag protection, the downtown art galleries, antique stores and craft studios that bring tens of thousands of tourists to Clarksville each year would be threatened, as would the 19th century homes perched along a wide swath of the river.

Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said the City Council voted at an emergency meeting Monday not to fund the flood fight, and the reason was simple: There's no money for it.

"We just can't keep doing this," Smiley said.

If there was any resentment by those whose property would be in harm's way, it wasn't evident Wednesday. Several merchants and homeowners have begun working together to fill sandbags left over from last year, hoping their efforts will be enough.

"You can't fault the city for not spending money they don't have, but we're out here because you have to do something," said Mike Brewer, a 62-year-old blacksmith and sign artist.

Whether it's due to climate change, new levees upstream that funnel more water downriver, bad luck or some combination of all three, extreme flooding has become commonplace along the Mississippi.

Six of the 10 worst floods on record in Clarksville have occurred in the past two decades. Smiley said sandbagging has been required in four of the past eight years, costing $400,000 to $700,000 each time. Much of that is reimbursed by the state and federal governments, but the city of about 450 residents picks up enough of the tab to cover a big part of its $350,000 annual budget.

The state is offering some help. Mike O'Connell, spokesman for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, said the agency is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to help get sandbags and plastic tarps to Clarksville, and is reaching out to volunteer groups such as the American Red Cross for assistance, in case they are needed. Federal Emergency Management Agency spokesman Michael Cappannari said FEMA could provide assistance if a disaster occurs.

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