U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo
The Corps of Engineers St. Louis District and contractors perform embankment work along the Chain of Rocks levee in 2014.
EDWARDSVILLE — The Madison County Board Wednesday authorized a flood prevention organization to borrow up to $100 million that officials say will fund work to weather a 500-year flood.
The Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council, which includes Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties, will issue bonds for the final phase of the council’s work to rehabilitate the region’s levees. Design work will begin next year and construction will start in 2017. The bonds will be funded through a one-quarter percent sales tax in the three counties.
Two board members, Republicans Judy Kuhn of Trenton and Michael “Mick” Madison of Bethalto, voted against the bond authorization. Kuhn said she needed more information; Madison took exception to the use of project labor agreements, which require contractors to hire workers referred by unions.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Madison said. “I think it’s pay-to-play politics at its very worst.”
In response, County Board Chairman Alan J. Dunstan cited a study by the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois that supported the use of project labor agreements.
“This is a local project and we want to use Madison County workers,” Dunstan said.
Dunstan described the levee project as “probably the most important issue this county is going to face.
“If you don’t fix these levees, businesses would leave because they can’t afford the flood insurance,” Dunstan said. “We don’t have a choice but to get these levees fixed.”
Dunstan hailed work to bring the levees up to a 100-year level of protection, expected to be completed next year, as a “textbook case” of political cooperation.
“We are being used as an example throughout the nation of how to do something locally,” he said.
The flood prevention council was created in 2009 in response to the federal government’s declaration that the 74-mile Metro East levee system would be deaccredited, resulting in higher insurance premiums for residents and businesses.
All of the funding for the 100-year work will come from the local sales tax. Chuck Etwert, the council’s chief supervisor of construction and the works, said the project will cost $115 million by next year, with an Army Corps of Engineers estimate of $185 million more needed to bring the levees up to the 500-year standard.
The corps offers 65 percent in matching funds if the council can guarantee it will provide 35 percent. Etwert said he expects the council, combining local and matching funds, will spend $152 to $154 million over the next seven years.
Although Etwert didn’t have an estimate for the project’s completion, he said it’s being accomplished on a faster timetable than the corps’ original projection of 2044.
Etwert said he expects the levee system to get Federal Emergency Management Agency accreditation by the end of 2016.
In other business:
• Board member Lisa Ciampoli, a Collinsville Republican, questioned Dunstan about whether the county is following a rule to present a draft budget to the Finance and Government Operations Committee by Sept. 15. Ciampoli, who is not a member of the finance committee, said she requested a copy from County Administrator Joe Parente and he refused.
Parente said committee members received their copies before the deadline.
In a press release issued after the meeting, Treasurer Kurt Prenzler said he and other board members are concerned about what he called a pattern of delays in the draft budget, going back to 2013.
“This looks like a strategy to limit debate on the budget,” he said.
Dunstan said board members will have plenty of time to discuss the budget prior to its adoption at the Nov. 18 board meeting.
• The board approved a $750,000 loan to America’s Central Port for rail improvements at a 60-acre industrial site. The loan stipulates a 3 percent interest rate for a seven-year term.
In a press release, Dunstan said the 1,200-acre port, with 1,350 jobs and an annual payroll of $66 million, has the potential to expand the area’s economy.
“The Madison County Board’s approval of this loan to America’s Central Port is actually an investment, made on behalf of our residents, in one of our county’s key economic engines,” he said. “When fully utilized, it is estimated the site will attract approximately $60 million in new, private investment and will create more than 200 new jobs. Representatives of America’s Central Port and county economic development representatives have already received inquiries from businesses which may be looking to locate at the port. This is a very positive development for Madison County.”
Improvements at the site will cost approximately $1.6 million. When completely developed, the site will have more than 1 million square feet of industrial and distribution space with access to rail and water transportation.
The port, operated by the Tri-City Regional Port District, encompasses Granite City, Madison, Venice and other municipalities in the southern end of the county.