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Alexander County to receive FEMA grant

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency is awarding a Flood Mitigation Assistance grant, worth more than $4.14 million, to Alexander County for a project that will buy flooded properties left over from the 2011 flood.

The project will acquire 167 properties in Alexander County that are located in the Mississippi River floodplain. In addition, there are four other structures the county is proposing to raise above the floodplain.

"The grant would pay for the demolition of the majority of the properties, which would then be kept as open space," Alexander County Highway Department engineer Jeff Denny said. "A good percentage of these homes were non-livable, or their owners never came back."

On April 30, 2011, Cairo went under a mandatory evacuation order due to rising waters from the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

The Ohio River rose to its highest level in recorded history at 61.7 feet, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was forced to blow a hole in the Birds Point Levee in Missouri to alleviate the pressure on the levees protecting the city.

"We've got several properties that are abandoned," Denny said. "Some (people) have moved on. Others have their lives in limbo."

The grant funds have been sent to the state of Illinois for disbursement, but they are just a fraction of the total amount set aside for the region.

"The total is $8.7 million from FEMA and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, plus another $5 million from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources," Denny said. "It takes about a month for us to actually see the funds."

Denny said once the county buys a property, it will have 90 days to complete demolition.

"This was the only option for these people to get any sort of financial assistance to get their lives back on track," Denny said. "It's not necessarily a good thing for the county, because you're taking property taxes off the books."

As for the houses that are to be elevated, Denny said the plan is to raise the first floor to a height that is one foot above the base floodplain.

"It was the landowners' choice," Denny said. "If they didn't want to take the buyout and move, this was a way to prevent their homes from being a flood risk in the future."

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