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East St. Louis Asked For $2.5 Million To Fix Flood Damages. It May Get Far Less.

The Illinois River as it crested in the flooded town of Grafton, just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in June 2019..
Derik Holtmann | Belleville News-Democrat
The Illinois River as it crested in the flooded town of Grafton, just north of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in June 2019.

East St. Louis has asked the federal government for $2.5 million to repair damage from this spring’s floods, but could wind up getting only a fraction of what it wants.

The city is among two dozen local governments that have applied for $33 million in assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Five months after this spring’s historic flooding, they’re beginning to get an idea of how much they will receive as FEMA teams investigate their requests.

East St. Louis has been temporarily approved by FEMA to receive $209,557 — or about 8% of what it wants — to fix its sewer system the city claims was damaged by flooding on the Mississippi River. It could get more once the process is completed.

The Metro East Sanitary District in Madison County applied for $2.79 million but so far has been approved to receive $1.8 million, or $940,000 less than it requested.

Last week, President Donald Trump declared 27 counties in Illinois as natural disaster areas, including St. Clair, Madison, Monroe, Jersey and Calhoun counties. Communities submitted their applications in July, and now FEMA is going about trying to verify the claims.

During this process, agencies that requested funding will need to justify their claims to FEMA in order to receive full funding.

FEMA’s public assistance program awards grants to local governments and nonprofit organizations up to 75 percent of their actual costs. That can include debris removal, funds spent on fighting the actual flooding, repairs to damaged infrastructure and hazard mitigation.

As of now, based on meetings that took place before Trump’s declaration, some agencies and cities have been temporarily approved for funding. In some cases, that means the entire request is poised to be funded. In others, far less has been OK’d.

St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency Director Herb Simmons said East St. Louis failed to provide FEMA with proof documenting ongoing sewer maintenance.

“They didn’t have all the documentation that they needed on their maintenance work that was needed over the years,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they won’t get any more (money), but they have to have the documentation.”

East St. Louis officials could not be reached for comment after repeated attempts.

A temporary setback 

Simmons said for some it means the funding may not be coming at all, while for others, it could just be a temporary setback. He said the FEMA teams are dealing with thousands of documents.

“There are mounds and mounds of paperwork they’ll be sifting through,” he said.

A spokesman for FEMA could not be reached for comment.

Simmons said as more documentation is provided, more funding will likely be approved. He added that during this process, more funding can also be requested if new damage claims are discovered.

It’s good news, Simmons said, if that money can be recouped.He said in the past flooding in Southern Illinois hasn’t reached the threshold required to be considered for FEMA funds.

“That’s why it’s important to keep good documentation during any natural disasters,” Simmons said. He learned that lesson during the Great Flood of 1993.

So far, eight agencies or cities in St. Clair have been temporarily approved for their full FEMA requests while four others have only received partial approval. In total, St. Clair agencies and cities have been approved for roughly $3.2 million of the original $5.8 million requested in the county.

Most of these requests have to do with manpower, electricity bills and infrastructure damage, Simmons said.

In Madison County, $24.8 million in FEMA funding was requested due to springtime flooding, including $3.65 million in Alton. How much of that has been temporarily approved was not immediately available.

Interim Madison County Emergency Management Agency Director Tony Falconio said its best for communities and agencies to err on the side of caution and request more than they expect to get. He said its typical for these cost estimates to be cut but the severity can depend on circumstances.

“You always want to ask for more and let the professionals tell you no as opposed to asking for less,” he said.

He said it isn’t uncommon for organizations to mistake things like hourly pay for employees as funds eligible for FEMA reimbursement.

In Monroe County, roughly $880,000 in FEMA funds was requested. Figures for Jersey County, which includes Grafton, and Calhoun County, which includes Hardin, were not immediately available.

Simmons, who is also the mayor of East Carondelet, which is situated along the Mississippi River, said flooding can have a perverse impact on communities that are already financially strapped. East Carondelet asked for reimbursement of $842,321.

“You try to have a little unexpected money for things like this,” he said. “But especially for the smaller communities and especially communities that are tightly strapped already, a disaster like that really dips into them.”

Simmons said this part of the process is really “just the beginning” for many communities and can be the hardest part of getting funds from FEMA after a natural disaster.

“It will be good news if we can recover the money that these communities expended, but it’s a long, drawn-out process and this is just the start of it,” he said. “It’s not a simple process.”

Here are the original totals requested by agencies in the metro-east:

Madison County

▪ Alton — $3.65 million

▪ Choteau Township — $4,300

▪ East Alton — $8,684

▪ Godfrey — $13,195

▪ Granite City — $3.391 million

▪ Madison — $1.529 million

▪ Madison County EMA —$22,422

▪ Madison County Highway Department — $72,581

▪ Madison County Sheriff’s Department — $63,421

▪ Metro East Sanitary District — $2.791 million

▪ Special Services Area No. 1 — $569,323

▪ Venice — $275,600

▪ Wood River Drainage and Levee District — $1.172 million

St. Clair County

▪ Village of Dupo - $17,572.60

▪ St. Clair County Roads and Bridges - $219,388.33

▪ Village of Cahokia Sewer and Water - $215,303.92

▪ Metro East Sanitary District - $2,919,541.95

▪ Sugarloaf Township - $117,422.78

▪ Village of East Carondelet - $842,231.37

▪ Prairie DuPont Levee District - $462,591

▪ Lebanon Township - $1,611.36

▪ City of East St. Louis - $2,543,000

▪ St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency - $12,795.66

▪ Village of Sauget - $691,494.19

▪ Village of Cahokia Streets and Parks - $115,822

Editor’s Note: These totals may have changed since their original publication.

Kavahn Mansouri covers government accountability for the Belleville News-Democrat, holding officials and institutions accountable and tracking how taxpayer money is spent.  kmansouri@bnd.com.