By ALAN J. ORTBALS
One positive impact of the Great Recession —at least for those who were in the market to buy — was crazy low construction prices, which paid off for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District over the last several years. Originally estimated at $160 million — and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ estimates were much higher — the Flood Prevention District is expecting to complete its work to bring the levees to the 100-year flood accreditation level with $22 million left over.
With that $22 million in seed money and a strong revenue stream from the quarter-cent sales tax, the Flood Prevention District is planning to issue bonds and commence work on reaching the 500-year flood accreditation level — what’s referred to as “the authorized level” of protection.
Work on the 100-year level projects is ongoing. Chuck Etwert, chief engineer for the Flood Prevention District, said that he expects all work on that phase to be completed by May 2016. The 100-year level is what’s necessary to receive accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Etwert said he hoped to receive that accreditation by the end of 2016.
But the Flood Prevention District board of directors doesn’t want to wait on that accreditation — or the completion of the 100-year level projects — to begin work necessary to reach the 500-year level, which is the level to which they were originally built. The board passed a bond sale resolution in its June meeting. The Madison, Monroe and St. Clair County boards as well as the various levee district boards passed resolutions of approval in August. A bond sale of between $65 million and $75 million is expected to be completed in November.
Because the area was under the threat of losing FEMA accreditation and working against the clock, the Flood Prevention District board decided to pay the full cost of the 100-year level projects. By law, only a 35 percent local match was required but the Corps’ 65 percent share was iffy at best as it was subject to Congressional appropriation. The area couldn’t afford to wait. Not so with the 500-year level work.
“We’re operating under a memorandum of understanding with the Corps,” Etwert said. “We’re going ahead because we have the money to do so. The Corps doesn’t have its money at this point but we want to get what they call ‘work-in-kind’ credit for what we do. Later on down the road when the Corps gets the money, we want our work now to meet our 35 percent match the Corps requires.”
Etwert says this is a little risky as the district doesn’t have complete assurance from the Corps but to get that complete assurance would take a year and a half or more and the Flood Prevention District board doesn’t want to waste the time.
“There is a little risk moving ahead because we don’t have a complete commitment from the Corps,” Etwert said, “but we feel pretty comfortable about it. In order to get absolute assurance on your work-in-kind projects, you have to get what they call an IDR approval (Integral Determination Report) in which they approve identified projects. Then, after that you have to get a PPA (Project Partnership Agreement). Unfortunately, to get the IDR would probably take eight to 12 months and then to get the PPA would take another year after that. That’s time we just can’t waste. We feel pretty good about moving forward because we’re working hand-in-hand with the Corps. We meet about every other week to review everything. So we feel confident that we’re going to be eligible for the work-in-kind match.
“If you really want to be absolutely 100 percent sure, you might not have that approval for another year and a half or two years and the board wants to move on this,” Etwert added. “We want to get the projects built. We want to provide the protection as soon as we can, so we’re moving ahead.”
The law that created the district authorizes the issuance of bonds for up to 25 years to pay for qualified projects. The quarter-cent sales tax that funds the bonds will stay in effect until all bonds are redeemed.
The board has approved the design of the Wood River Levee District and Metro East Sanitary District projects. The estimated work-in-kind match for the Wood River projects is $12.9 million and $33.9 million for the sanitary district projects. Estimates have not yet been prepared for the Prairie Du Pont and Fish Lake systems.