OLIVE BRANCH — About 75 people filled Horseshoe Lake Community Center in Olive Branch on Thursday evening to learn about and discuss community recovery and rebuilding efforts in the small Alexander County town.

A year ago, much of Olive Branch, like many other small towns in the southern part of Illinois, was underwater. Community members, county officials and geologists from SIU Carbondale have been working since then to navigate buyouts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for many residents and provide options for the future to lessen the risk of future flooding.

The public meeting was an opportunity for residents to listen to presentations about possibilities for rebuilding and relocation and to ask questions to better understand the process.

Community members expressed concerns on how their properties will be appraised for a FEMA buyout, property taxes, flood insurance and other funding if a portion of the town is relocated.

Many expressed concern the buyout process was taking so long.

Beth Ellison, a geospatial analyst and project manager at SIU, assured the attendees FEMA funding would definitely be released for the buyouts, and hopefully it would be soon.

“Things are moving forward,” Ellison said. “Bear with us. There are exciting things ahead.”

Lucille Masterson, a member of the Olive Branch rebuilding planning committee, recapped a tour taken in early March of rebuilding efforts in Greensburg, Kan., and Joplin, Mo., which were both destroyed by tornadoes, and Valmeyer, which relocated after flooding in 1993.

Masterson said she felt the public meeting went well, but empathized with her fellow community members about how long the buyout process has taken.

“I think they’re getting desperate,” Masterson said. “They’re ready to get stuff done.”

From May 17 through 20, the Greater Olive Branch Area Strategic Vision and Design Event will take place, bringing together architects, engineers, contractors, ecologists, design teams and the local planning team to establish the framework and guidelines for design implementation and lay out an overall vision and master plan for the rebuilding effort.

Planning committee member Sidney Miller said he thought the public meeting was a success and hoped more people will get involved in the rebuilding effort.

“I’m really excited,” Miller said. “We had really good questions we hadn’t heard before. I think we had a real positive meeting.”


On Twitter: @BrentStewartSI

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