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Missouri city opts not to pay for flood protection

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm •  Published: July 2, 2014
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CLARKSVILLE, Mo. (AP) — For years, tiny Clarksville has paid for temporary sandbag walls to protect its quaint business district and historic waterfront homes from Mississippi River flooding. But unwilling to raid its coffers again despite rising water levels, the city has left it to individual merchants and residents to safeguard their property.

After an unusually calm spring, the river is raging. Recent heavy rains in the upper Midwest have caused a sudden surge in the water level and by the middle of next week, the National Weather Service is projecting it to reach 9 feet above flood stage in Clarksville.

At that level and without sandbag protection, the downtown art galleries, antique stores and craft studios that bring tens of thousands of tourists to Clarksville each year would be threatened, as would the 19th century homes perched along a wide swath of the river.

Mayor Jo Anne Smiley said the City Council voted at an emergency meeting Monday not to fund the flood fight, and the reason was simple: There's no money for it.

"We just can't keep doing this," Smiley said.

If there was any resentment by those whose property would be in harm's way, it wasn't evident Wednesday. Several merchants and homeowners have begun working together to fill sandbag left over from last year, hoping their efforts will be enough.

"You can't fault the city for not spending money they don't have, but we're out here because you have to do something," said Mike Brewer, a 62-year-old blacksmith and sign artist.

Marge Greenwell, who runs a furniture-making business with her husband, Mike, said some merchants are unhappy with the city's decision. Rather than gripe, though, she said they are simply pitching in to fight the flood on their own.

"We're here and we're going to do something," Greenwell said. "We've worked too hard. We rehabbed all these buildings, the store fronts. We're on the National Register of Historic Places. We just pray we'll be able to keep the water away."

Whether it's due to climate change, new levees upstream that funnel more water downriver, bad luck or some combination of all three, extreme flooding has become commonplace along the Mississippi.

Six of the 10 worst floods on record in Clarksville have occurred in the past two decades. Smiley said sandbagging has been required in four of the past eight years, costing $400,000 to $700,000 each time. Much of that is reimbursed by the state and federal government, but the city of roughly 450 residents picks up enough of the tab to consume a big chunk of its $350,000 annual budget.

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