THEBES — Crews will soon demolish two vacant public housing complexes in Thebes, a small town of about 350 people in northwest Alexander County.
The Alexander County Housing Authority recently awarded a $395,600 contract to Steve’s Hauling and Excavating for the demolition project, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman said.
The project was temporarily stalled by a request from the Osage Nation for an archaeological review, according to Mark Dillon, president of Eggemeyer Associates Architects Inc., which is overseeing demolition projects in Cairo and Thebes.
A representative of the Osage Nation’s Historic Preservation Office told The Southern Illinoisan that it requested a survey of the site because Thebes is an area of historical significance to the tribe; it was described as a routine request. Osage Nation’s representative said it is awaiting the report from HUD and then will work with the agency on a mitigation plan, if necessary.
Eggemeyer hired Carbondale-based American Resources Group Ltd. to conduct the survey. The report has not been finalized yet, but the archaeologist has informed Eggemeyer that the 5-acre site that the ACHA owns in Thebes appears to be clear of anything of significance that would affect the project, according to Dillon. The Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace buildings that are slated for demolition sit on about half of the property. The area of concern is primarily on land where there are no buildings, Dillon said.
The Ohio River valley is considered the origin of the Dhegiha Siouan language-speaking tribe, which would later become the Osage, Omaha, Ponca, Kaw and Quapaw tribes. During the Middle Woodland period (A.D. 200-400), the Dhegiha Siouan tribe migrated as a group down the Ohio River valley to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, near present-day Cairo. During the Late Woodland period (A.D. 400-500), many with the Dhegiha Siouan tribes, with the exception of the Quapaw, moved up the central Mississippi River valley and settled in the St. Louis area, according to an Osage Nation report titled “Ancestral Osage Geography” by Dr. Andrea A. Hunter.
Others followed various river drainages into the interior of what are now Missouri and Illinois. Later, between A.D. 900 to 1000, larger groups settled in the Cahokia area. Some moved on, but those who would later become the Osage were the last remaining Dhegiha Siouan tribe in the Cahokia area, according to Hunter’s report, based on history derived from archaeological data, oral traditions, historical and linguistic evidence.
HUD has been administering the Alexander County Housing Authority in receivership since February 2016. In early 2017, HUD announced a decision to tear down two family public housing apartments in Cairo after helping about 185 families move. The following year, HUD announced that it also planned to demolish two public housing apartments in Thebes, where about 30 families lived at the time; they have also since moved with HUD’s assistance.
Steve Pleimann, owner of Steve’s Hauling and Excavating, based in Oak Ridge, Missouri, said that the project will get underway by the end of the month. It will begin with asbestos removal, a job he has subcontracted out to Schemel Companies Inc. That Perryville, Missouri-based company also handled asbestos removal prior to the demolition of the Elmwood and McBride public housing complexes in Cairo.
Pleimann said that he expects that demolition will begin in mid-November and should take about six weeks to complete.
HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that the agency is working with Osage Nation concerning their archaeological survey request and that more information about the demolition timeline would be made available “once they’re in a comfortable place.”
The demolition project of Elmwood and McBride in Cairo began this summer and is nearly completed. The buildings have come down, and all construction debris has been removed. Josh Appleton, co-owner of Benton-based Earth Services, the contractor in charge of Cairo demolitions, said that the last phase of the project, land restoration, should be completed within about two weeks.
Cairo Mayor Thomas Simpson said HUD has approached the city about whether it wants the land once the project is finalized. Simpson said that Cairo is interested. The city would maintain it, and then would make it available to developers who might want it for business, industrial or housing development purposes in the future. Thomas said he feels positive about Cairo's momentum, and believes the land will be put to good use for the benefit of the city’s citizens.
Thebes Village Clerk Stormy Easton said HUD has also approached the village about whether it wants the ACHA land there. Easton said the village is not really interested in taking it over, because it has limited means to keep up the property. But the village will likely consider it if it can obtain it for a low cost. Easton said HUD has not kept the property mowed for some time, and village leaders want to make sure that gets taken care of routinely. Easton said there are still a lot of hard feelings about how the situation played out. With all of the attention on the housing crisis in Cairo, it seemed like the decisions affecting Thebes were an afterthought, she said.
The ACHA was the village’s largest utility customer, accounting for a third of monthly gas, water and sewer billing. When the buildings were originally constructed, officials said it was to help provide housing for low-income families and assist the village financially.
When HUD decided to tear the buildings down, officials cited the need for extensive repairs and limited government funding to make them. They attempted to find a private landlord to take over the housing developments, but there were no takers. Just over 40% of Thebes residents live in poverty, and the town has virtually no economic base.
Late this summer, the village voted to increase its water rates in order to service the debt on an Environmental Protection Agency loan to upgrade the aging system, Easton said. It was already going to have to raise water rates a nominal amount, but with the ACHA properties gone, the charges had to increase more substantially, she said. The minimum monthly water bill payment went from $30.50 to $36, she said. The price per 1,000 gallons increased from $4 to $8.22.
“We’re really starting to feel the effects of losing it now,” she said. “It’s still a sore subject with the village.”
On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI
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