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One’s protected, one’s connected: How Grafton and Ste. Genevieve responded to the Great Flood of ’93

Colin Wellenkamp (L) and Rick Eberlin (R) joined host Don Marsh to discuss flooding along the Mississippi River.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Remembrances of the Great Flood of ’93 often focus on St. Louis, but many other cities and towns along the Mississippi River faced consequences.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, the mayors of Grafton, Illinois, and Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, joined host Don Marsh to talk about what their communities are doing 25 years after the big event. Their stories represent differences in the way cities have coped with the threat of flooding.

“We have a new levee and it’s protecting our historic district,” said Mayor Paul Hassler of Ste. Genevieve about a $53 million project that protects homes renowned for their striking French architecture.

That protection, however, comes with downsides.

“Somehow, some way, we need to reconnect to the river,” Hassler said, noting that tourists who ask to see the river must be directed away from town.

Alternatively, residents in Grafton don’t enjoy the same protection from the river as do residents in Ste. Genevieve.

“Usually every year, sometimes twice a year, we have to do a major cleanup,” explained Mayor Rick Eberlin of Grafton.

Eberlin said the Mississippi River and its connection to the town is vital to its economy.

“If we don’t have tourists, we don’t have much of a town,” he said.

While walling off the river is not a viable solution in Grafton, Eberlin said the community is taking a more natural approach to dealing with flooding. The city, he said, is designing areas meant to flood.

“We’d like to put a boardwalk through with an amphitheater and really develop it,” Eberlin said about initial plans and ongoing conversations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Indeed, different cities have different needs.

“We’re seeing cities and towns coming to grips with varying solutions,” said Colin Wellenkamp, who also joined the conversation and is the executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative.

Wellenkamp said the time between disasters for communities up and down the Mississippi River is condensing. He noted that since the flood in 1993 there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Isaac a few years later, a large flood in 2011 followed by a drought the following year, and flooding in 2016 and 2017.

Listen to the conversation to hear more about how Grafton and Ste. Genevieve are dealing with the threat of floods. The guests also shared their memories of the Great Flood of ’93.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.