Flood-Prone Missouri Town Ready to Launch Mitigation Plan

November 18, 2009

Clarksville, Mo., is moving ahead with what Mayor Jo Anne Smiley calls the “monumental task” of never again having to worry about the Mississippi River ruining businesses and disrupting lives in this town of 490 residents.

It will take time, it will be costly and it’s almost guaranteed to prompt controversy.

In the end, however, backers hope to convince even the most skeptical doubters that dry feet are better than wet necks.

“The need is there,” Smiley said. “We know that it has to be accomplished.”

Clarksville was devastated by an ice storm in December 2007. The storm was followed a few months later by the third-worst flood in history. The river level hit 36.70 on June 24, 2008. Only the 36.76 on April 24, 1973, and the 37.50 on July 29, 1993, were higher.

The National Guard, volunteers and equipment from around the world descended upon Clarksville to help the community battle the flooding. At one point, a million sandbags held back the river.

Despite the effort, water found its way into some homes and businesses. Highway 79 was closed for a time and the swollen river caused the sewer system to back up. Damage was in the millions of dollars.

Since then, a long-range plan for flood control and infrastructure improvements has been developed through the efforts of city officials, a professional consultant and local residents.

The plan includes everything from a wall that could be put in when the Mississippi rises to sewer system improvements.

A cost hasn’t been determined, but the final bill will be expensive. A combination of state and federal assistance, grants and local revenue will have to be used.

An engineering study will be done to decide where to put the removable floodwall.

A permanent foundation would be built so that the panels could be put in when flooding threatens along a 1.5-mile stretch.

The panels would be six feet to 10 feet tall, and would be put in only when needed. Visitors and residents could still enjoy Clarksville’s scenic riverfront. When not in use for floods, the foundation might accommodate a bicycle path.

“This wall will be built in sections so it can be increased in height,” Smiley said.

Clarksville’s emergency management committee has spoken with other towns that use portable floodwalls. None have tried them for the length that Clarksville plans.

Meanwhile, the city is talking with four engineering firms about updating the sewer system in advance of state requirements in 2012.

“We know it will have to be done in steps, but we want to get it prioritized,” Smiley said. “You can’t keep counting on the old infrastructure to serve the community.”

Many things could change and a lot of factors must be taken into consideration before any work begins.

“There’s no quick fix,” Smiley said. “There’s no one answer. There’s no solution that will make it right for everybody. You just have to take the next step and the next step. Complacency is not an option.”

One project already on track is an effort to get a grant that would pay for portable generators. The devices could be used at the community’s shelter site and other locations in an emergency.

But Smiley and others feel a sense of urgency about the broader picture as they look out at the nearby waterway and recall the devastation is caused so recently.

“We can’t depend on somebody else to do it for us,” Smiley said. “We have to do it ourselves.”

Information from: Hannibal Courier-Post, http://www.hannibal.net

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.