Volunteers work together to protect Clarksville; plans move forward for proposed modular flood wall

Clarksville residents are familiar with the teamwork it takes to keep the Mississippi River at bay, as flood waters again threaten the 201-year old community.

Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley remembered when she was in office during the flood in 2008, and how the extended levee protected the post office, lumberyard and other businesses lining Front Street. A concerted effort between local residents and officials from groups including SEMA, FEMA and AmeriCorps delivered an “absolute tremendous response that year,” she said.

At 2 p.m. Friday, the water level stood at 33.1 feet, and Smiley said predictions called for that level to remain steady overnight.Plans for a modular flood wall depend on state funding requests that have essentially restarted — and the community's demonstrations of teamwork are as strong as ever.

When the river reaches beyond the 25-foot flood level, water begins to threaten the historic shops and homes lining the river on Front Street. In 2001, when Smiley moved to Clarksville with her late husband, Wayne, the water level reached 34.7 feet in May. In 2008, the water peaked at 36.7 feet.

Smiley said, “No two floods are alike.” Sandbagging efforts began in areas where the water was expected to reach first. From there, determining the height of the wall and which areas to protect next was based on predictions.

Pumps will continue to remove water from behind the flood wall until the water recedes. Predictions call for the water level to begin to drop beginning Monday.

Erin Garrison and Bud Garrison own Great River Road Pottery and Wood Shop, which sits very close to the river bank downtown. Erin Garrison said they were looking forward to opening their doors during Clarksville's Applefest on Saturday, Oct. 13 and Sunday, Oct. 14.

A group of 36 Clopton High School students visited the community on Thursday, filling sandbags and setting up a barricade that Garrison said was in place ahead of the approaching waters on Friday. She said flooding is “a routine for us,” and community members know their specific tasks and when to perform them.

Garrison said the town's residents are grateful for the level of volunteer assistance they've received during flooding.

“We're just so lucky that we have so many wonderful people who are willing to help,” she said.

The students received a meal at Clarksville United Methodist Church, with pizza purchased by city officials. Smiley echoed the feeling of gratitude for outside assistance, saying the community members hope to be part of “an independent town who can take care of themselves in flood times.”

City officials developed a Master Plan, supplemented by an engineering report completed in 2010 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Smiley and fellow officials agreed that a modular EKO flood wall — composed of hollow upright tubes and stackable bricks — would protect the town without blocking the view of the riverfront when it's not in use.

Smiley meets each month Hansen, who wrote $1 million in funding into the state's budget over the past three years. Smiley said that she and Hansen have been busy seeking state funds allocated for emergency defense, essentially starting over due to new legislators in Missouri government. She said that progress for the flood wall proposal depended upon information coming in from the state before seeking federal funding, and she will explore every potential avenue moving forward.

“We'll reach in every direction we can reach,” she said.

trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com