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Army Corps shelved a plan to address Metro East flooding decades ago, lawmakers say

Flood waters pour onto the road
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
In the area that is now Cahokia Heights, the Army Corps shelved 14 flood control measures authorized in 1965 for the area because of “low cost-benefit ratios.”

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers put together a plan decades ago to address chronic flooding in the American Bottoms region of St. Clair and Madison counties but never implemented it, according to a letter from Illinois’ two U.S. senators and a Metro East congresswoman.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth and U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski said the Army Corps shelved 14 flood control measures authorized in 1965 for the area because of “low cost-benefit ratios.” They noted that decades later, the communities experience frequent flooding.

The American Bottoms is the Mississippi River flood plain that stretches from Alton to the Kaskaskia River. It includes towns like Cahokia Heights, East St. Louis and Granite City.

Flooding regularly makes sewers overflow in Cahokia Heights, and sewage-contaminated water spills into residents’ homes.

In their letter, Durbin, Duckworth and Budzinski are asking Army and federal budget officials to make $400,000 available to the Army Corps in fiscal year 2024 so it can conduct a study to either affirm or modify the 1965 plan.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker included $1.5 million in his fiscal year 2025 budget proposal to put toward the project, according to the federal lawmakers.

They sent the letter on Tuesday. It was addressed to Assistant Secretary of the Army Michael Connor and Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, which administers the federal budget.

U.S. Army Public Affairs declined to comment on the letter. U.S. Office of Management and Budget Public Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Since shelving the American Bottoms plan, the Army Corps has updated its policy to consider other factors besides costs and benefits when selecting projects, according to Durbin’s office. Now, it gives higher priority to inland projects, areas of historic disinvestment and projects that address the impacts of climate change.

Flooding brings health concerns

Cahokia Heights residents are concerned their exposure to sewage and mold from floodwater could be making them sick.

Hazardous Homes, a special report the Belleville News-Democrat published in November, revealed public health agencies have not investigated the possible health effects. But an independent study of the bacteria and parasites present in the community found more than 40% of adults out of an initial sample of 42 had the same stomach infection from the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori.

It is believed to spread through contact with feces or contaminated food or water.

The letter to Army and budget officials is Durbin, Duckworth and Budzinski’s latest request for federal agencies to address residents’ concerns. In December, they also asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct a public health assessment in Cahokia Heights.

The CDC has not yet committed to conducting the assessment. The lawmakers have said they plan to continue following up to make sure it happens.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.