For the past two years, the local US Army Corps of Engineers office and I have been pushing the federal government to take the problems with the floodwall along the Mississippi River at St. Louis more seriously.
If St. Louis were to be hit by a major flood, the floodwall along the Mississippi River could fail because it is old and in need of repairs. Worst case scenario would be the loss of life and billions of dollars in property damage and lost business.
I realize we are talking about the kind of flood that only happens once in a blue moon. But, as we saw in New Orleans, it does happen and it is imprudent to ignore the possibility.
The repairs to protect us would cost about $16 million in local and federal funds. St. Louis set aside our match more than a year ago. Unfortunately, the federal government has not yet done the same.
This, as Congressman Russ Carnahan has noted, should not be a difficult federal decision to make: They can spend a small amount of money now doing prevention or as happened in New Orleans, they can spend a huge amount of money later cleaning up the damage.
The federal government’s inaction could also cost us our local match. City voters approved a bond issue for our share, which is 35 percent of the project, back in 2005. Under IRS rules, we have to spend that money within 3 years. That means we have to start spending our match before the end of this year on the floodwall or on something else. If Congress doesn’t act this year, the local match for the floodwall could be gone.
So, we need Congress to do two things: We need an amendment to the Water Resources Bill that would allow us to spend our match before Congress appropriates the federal match. And, we need Congress to put some money into the Army Corps of Engineers’ 2008 construction budget.
Unfortunately, we face an uphill battle in Congress, because the President’s proposed budget contains no construction money for this project.
What lessons has the federal government learned from Hurricane Katrina? We’ll see.