A Year Later, St. Louis Continues to Rebuild After Rare Winter Flood

January 3, 2017

A year after a rare winter flood devastated parts of suburban St. Louis, many residents and businesses are continuing to pick up the pieces.

Heavy rains in December 2015 caused widespread flooding in eastern Missouri, the worst of it along the Meramec River in the southern part of the St. Louis region. Fenton alderman Joe Maurath told St. Louis Public Radio that things still haven’t returned to normal.

“It seems like every time you turn around, there’s something that you may have overlooked pops up,” Maurath said.

Missouri officials say more than 7,000 structures were damaged. Two wastewater treatment plants were knocked offline. One was running again within a couple of weeks, but a plant in Fenton took several months to rebuild.

Walter Wolfner was shocked by the impact the flood had on his Riverside Golf Club in Fenton.

“The velocity of the water was so great that it picked up sand from the Meramec River and deposited it on the golf course,” Wolfner said “I mean, we’d never seen things like that before.”

Some local government leaders complained that the Federal Emergency Management Agency promised to help clear debris, but no one showed up to do so.

Lance LeComb of the Metropolitan Sewer District said the utility is still making minor, flood-related repairs to the Fenton sewer plant, even as it evaluates how to better protect its plants from major floods. But he noted that the Fenton plant was supposed to be protected by a levee built to withstand a 500-year flood.

“If the 500-year-flood protection was defeated, what more should we do?” LeComb asked. “And now, folks will say we should do more automatically. Well, that does come with a price and that price is paid by the public, our customers, and we need to be sensitive to the financial considerations as well.”

The city of Fenton is buying up properties in areas near the river, adding them to a park system.

“We’ve got to quit developing in flood plains,” Maurath said. “We’ve got to quit building levees. And I think we’ll help ourselves in the long run.”

In the spring, FEMA funded programs that sent crisis counselors into Eureka, Pacific, Valley Park and other flood-damaged communities. Counselors provided emotional support to as many as 130 people in those first few months and conducted regular check-ins on their well-being.

In Fenton, Wolfner has applied for permits to raise the clubhouse at his golf course by 11 feet, a project that will cost $200,000.

“We can’t have this happen to us and we know it’s going to,” Wolfner said.

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