Rep: Gov. says money for Clarksville flood deterrant won't be withheld if Senate OK's bill

In 2008, Clarksville’s buildings were full, teeming with artisans and dealers.

That situation would change rapidly when the Mississippi River swelled and overflowed its banks that summer.

The flooding was marginally less severe than the historic Great Flood of 1993, and some of the business owners and residents —many of whom had not been through a flood before — left town and did not return.

“Following 2008, the impact on the community financially was measurable,” Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said.

From that point forward, city officials worked with various state and federal agencies to determine the best way to keep business owners and residents safe from floodwaters. Following a series of town hall meetings between residents and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) representatives, the city followed FEMA recommendations for establishing a Master Plan, Engineering Report and flood defense options. State Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford), whose district encompasses Clarksville, has been working toward the same goal for the community, and a recent bill has made it through the House of Representatives and is set for review in the Missouri Senate.

Hansen said that a 2016 bill would have provided the $1 million in state funds that Clarksville needs to pursue federal grants for a modular flood wall project of about $3.5 million. That bill passed the House and the Senate, but then-Gov. Jay Nixon held back the funding. Hansen said he spoke with Gov. Eric Greitens recently about the town’s situation, and he told Hansen that the money would not be held back if the Senate approved the 2017 bill.

Hansen pointed out that the costs for flood defense and cleanup are between $300,000 and $400,000 each year, and he has been working toward a solution for Clarksville’s flooding during each of his three terms.

Smiley said the $80,000 Master Plan and $130,000 Engineering Report helped the city decide to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to find the best locations and procedures for flood protection. The next step in the process involved examining numerous flood defense solutions over the course of about two-and-a-half years. Smiley said city officials vetted more than a dozen companies, deciding on a modular flood wall system that would consist of lightweight metal rods and stackable, watertight blocks.

The selected company, EKO of Germany, installed their first project on the Blue Danube River. Later, EKO created a project following the flooding of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Amid flood relief efforts along the Missouri River and in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the company has moved operations and manufacturing to the United States.

Smiley said she met with FEMA officials and EKO’s president and engineers, along with emergency management representatives and Sen. Roy Blunt in Washington D.C.

“Everybody has been in agreement that this is an appropriate way for us to go here in Clarksville,” Smiley said. “We just know that we need the money.”

EKO provided the $3.5 million estimate in 2008, so that figure could change. Smiley said the city was ready for the prospective flood wall, with storage space available for the components’ storage pods and a backhoe dedicated to moving pieces into place. Nine people can set up the uprights and blocks within a day on Front Street, she said. The modular approach would allow sections of different lengths to be installed based on need. Smiley agreed with Hansen that a flood wall like this would quickly pay for itself, based on the tedious and costly sandbag efforts needed each year — much of it provided by people who come to help from outside the community. She noted that money to fight the floods and provide cleanup ultimately comes from taxpayers, and she said she hoped that situation could change.

“We’ve had six of the highest floods in history since I’ve been in office,” Smiley said, noting the importance of a reusable flood wall for the community. “If we could spend it once, we could have paid for it with what we’ve spent since I’ve been in office.”

Hansen said he felt confident about the bill that could drastically alter Clarksville’s future and safety. And if the Senate opts not to pass the bill, he won’t give up.

“We’ll see what happens,” Hansen said. “If it doesn’t happen this year, I’ll be back next year.”

Smiley expressed the same level of dedication.

She said that agencies including the Regional Council of Governments have agreed to help with the future project — but only after the state funding is in place if the bill passes the Senate. Smiley said city officials have reinforced infrastructure throughout town, and boosting safety from the floods will remain a top priority – providing assurance for artisans, business owners and residents who call Clarksville home.

“I just think it’s an essential thing for us, as an elected official body of this town, to try to do what is best in the interest of the health and welfare of the community,” she said.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com