It was a year ago today torrential rains triggered a disaster along the Illinois River in LaSalle County. Seven barges crashed into a dam in Marseilles, causing millions of dollars in damage.
The community suffered record flooding, with more than 200 homes inundated. The city has come a long way since then: yesterday, Congressman Adam Kinzinger visited Marseilles for an update from the Army Corps of Engineers.
“What we’re looking at today is kind of a mitigated problem. And what we’ll see here in two to three years is a completely fixed problem. Not often in my job do I get to go out and see great things of hope, and this is one of them, a community that really rallied together in some tough times.”
The federal government has spent $10-million dollars on temporary repairs for the dam and a dike. The Army Corps of Engineers now has the funding to go ahead with 35-million dollars in permanent repairs. They’re expected to finish the lock and dam construction by the end of 2017.
The Marseilles Dam repair project has been funded because it is considered important to the nation’s river shipping infrastructure. The future’s still up in the air, however, for many homeowners hurt by last year’s flood.
Just ask Marseilles Mayor Patti Smith what her city still needs, one year after the flood? Money, of course. Smith says the city wants to buy some of the homes that haven’t been touched since the flood, so they can be either fixed up or torn down:
“They’re unsafe, they’re a detriment to the town and to the neighborhoods. That’s what we’re waiting for is funding for those projects.”
It’s about 20 homes that worry Kent Terry. He’s been volunteer coordinator for much of the cleanup. About ten of them can’t be salvaged, and he can’t find owners who will let his volunteers go in and repair the others. Still, progress has been remarkable, and Terry looks forward to sharing some good news with river-shy residents:
“We absolutely feel safer. The Army Corps of Engineers indicated we actually are safer now than we were before the flood.”
LaSalle County’s Emergency Management Director used the anniversary visit to remind Congressman Kinzinger the community still has a lot of needs, including federal funding for its Citizen Corps emergency response team:
“ We just trained 12 people here in this county who are concerned about their tow n. They now have volunteers that they can rely on right now if this were to happen again.”
One of the safety issues still ahead for the people of Marseilles is whether they need a taller dike to keep the river at bay: that should be addressed in a flood risk study the city plans to commission. For now, they’ll get by with a temporary fix made of stone, wire, and fabric.