ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MO. - What was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime flood has now happened twice in 16 months.
Bill Stock owns Microfinish, a metal finishing company in the Gravois Industrial Park. His company has been decimated by recent flooding. He showed us the water line from 2015 which ruined much of his expensive equipment.
"It's pretty hard to do business when you're faced with a major catastrophe every 15 or 16 months," said Scott Ashby, owner of Lucia's Pizza, in the same Sunset Hills neighborhood as Microfinish.
John Osterhage is with the Army Corps of Engineers which is responsible for our flood protection systems. "It all starts with the rainfall and nobody can control that," Osterhage said.
But some experts believe it's not just the rain but overbuilt levees that are squeezing the river. "We continue kicking the bear and the bear keeps swiping us back," said Bob Criss, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Washington University. He's studied water flows on our major rivers for decades, and said our region has too many levees that are too big and, in many cases, too close to the water.
"We've continued to develop low lying areas. Which is not only constricting the river, making the floods higher, but putting more and more property in harms way," said Criss.
David Stokes — with flood plain conservation organization Great Rivers Habitat Alliance — agrees. "Those levees might protect those narrow areas but they're just going to move the flood plain elsewhere," he said.
Stokes said their studies show that the Valley Park levee, which was completed in 2005, is eight feet higher than permitted by the Corps of Engineers and believes that's a big reason there's been record setting flooding in places like Eureka and Fenton. The Corps argues that the Valley Park Levee was built to exact specifications.
"Basically, Congress authorized us to study and determine the most appropriate for it to be built to and a pretty extensive analysis was done," said Osterhage.
The question is, what can be done moving forward? Professor Criss said we first have to stop flood plain development. "We have to cease building levees too close to the river," he said. "We have to lower some of them. We have to put gates in some of them and maybe try to re-build some of them further back so the river has got a little more room."
Back in Gravois Industrial Park, they have another idea. "How about build a levee for me?" asked Ron Wibbenmeyer of Aluminum Gutter and Material. "So, everybody else can get it like I'm getting it from everybody else."
Business owners half-joking, in a situation that to them is no joke at all.
"I'm hoping my customers stay faithful and don't give up on us," added Stock.
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