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Grafton Mayor Sees Hope In STORM Act’s $200M Loan Fund

Grafton city officials included the town's lighthouse in their strategic recovery plan after the flood of 1993.
Vincent Parsons
Grafton city officials included the town's lighthouse in their strategic recovery plan after the flood of 1993.

The Mississippi River town of Grafton, Illinois, was hit hard by flooding in 2019. Dirty water filled up Grafton’s five watersheds with silt, even as it seeped into buildings and scattered debris through town.

“It was quite a mess,” said Mayor Rick Eberlin. More than a year later, he added, Grafton is still in “dire need.”

Eberlin sees hope, however, in the STORM Act, which was signed into law Jan. 1 by then-President Donald Trump. The law authorizes FEMA to provide $200 million for a Resilience Revolving Loan fund and allows states to offer low-interest loans to counties and cities for disaster mitigation projects.

Through the work of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, Eberlin and other city mayors came up with a plan to develop the loan fund, and in March 2019, the delegation of mayors met with the Republican congressman who ended up introducing the plan in Congress, Rep. Rodney Davis, who represents Illinois' 13th Congressional District.

On Friday's St. Louis on the Air, Eberlin and Davis talked about how they hope this new law will benefit communities like Grafton in the years ahead.

“200 million sounds like a lot, [but] it is not a lot when you’re talking about projects along flood-prone areas in our country,” Davis said. “Communities are going to be asked too to put some of their own dollars in. You’re not going to borrow $200 million and then have to pay it back, because they wouldn’t be able to. A town like Grafton is going to have to look to see what is going to be their ability to repay. That’s the benefit of having this as a revolving loan program, because it continually gets refunded based upon the communities living up to their expectations.”

He added: “This is one that can pay dividends for decades to come. It will always be available because it’s a revolving loan fund.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.