County receives FEMA funds after 2011 flood

By Matt Daray

Alexander County residents will soon begin to rebuild their community.

Nearly two years after heavy spring rains caused the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to flood several towns such as Olive Branch and Tamms, Gov. Pat Quinn announced $8.7 million in federal funding March 18, to acquire and demolish 167 flood-prone county homes and businesses according to a governor’s office press release. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved the funding, and the state will provide the county nearly $3 million in capital funds to purchase the flood victims’ land and pay them to acquire new property.

The project will be one of the largest flood-related acquisitions ever in the state’s history, according to the press release.


“The historic floods of 2011 turned many lives upside-down,” Quinn said in the release. “These investments will help many families start anew as they continue to rebuild their lives.”

Beth Ellison, a geology professor, said she and other volunteers have worked closely with Alexander County residents since the project’s start.

“From day one, we knew the recovery process needed to start with the community deciding that they wanted to pursue FEMA funding for buyouts and home elevations,” she said. “From there, the community would decide which way the rebuilding process would take.”

Ellison said the project’s manager will hire an assessor to begin the real estate transaction process once a contract between the county and Illinois Emergency Management Agency is signed. Homeowners will be consulted through the process until they agree on an offer. Once the county owns the land, any structure on it must be demolished and no other taxable structure may be built on that parcel of land by agreement under the FEMA grant, she said. The county will then have to maintain the property as open space, she said.

The buyout project is slated to finish in early 2015, but the assessment and purchasing portion will hopefully be near completion by the end of 2013, Ellison said. The approved FEMA grant covers only the buyout and not the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts, she said.

With funds now available, a county official said he is optimistic about reconstruction.

Chalen Tatum, Alexander county commissioner, said he’s thrilled the county has finally received funding.


“It’s good for the people that’s been having to fight the river for several years,” he said. “Every ten years, it seems like they’re having to fight the waters back.”

Tatum said he isn’t surprised it took FEMA and the state so long to provide the county money because the application to repair the town was extensive. The funding was delayed last year because of Hurricane Sandy hitting the Eastern United States, he said.

Although the flood brought high waters and damage costs, Tatum said the aftermath has led to some positives. The funds give citizens the means to leave the flood plains and avoid future damage.

However, Alexander County residents’ opinions vary on how much FEMA has actually helped the community.

Tony Walder, an Olive Branch resident, said he was amazed the funds were approved — he thought the money would never come because the state and government are broke.

Walder said he thinks the funding took too long to become available for the county, which is partly why he does not trust either of them.

“They helped a few people out in the very beginning, and if they hadn’t have done that there wouldn’t have been no help,” he said. “I didn’t get nothing from them.”

Locals helped each other rebuild their communities after the flood, Walder said, and he is skeptical about how much money will actually go toward rebuilding the county.

Tina Bracken, a Tamms resident, said she thinks the state and FEMA need to provide the county quicker assistance.

“I think they should speed things up,” she said. “Recovery is a long process, and we are in need of the money soon.”

Bracken said she understands there is a lot of red tape that prevents immediate financial assistance to the county but thinks a portion of the money should have been sent for immediate aid. FEMA is a great department, but their policies cause them to react at a slow pace, she said.

The money approval has also relieved those who have worked to help rebuild.

Ellison said she is thrilled the project is now funded and can begin.

“I feel relieved,” she said. “For so long I kept telling community members that the funds are coming, and I (began) to sound like a broken record. The best part now is the calls of “thank you” from so many people who are ready to finally move on since the flood.”

Ellison said members of several different departments including anthropology, mass communications, biology, zoology, political science, health care and marketing have assisted the project and will continue to do so.

Students who wish to participate in reconstruction efforts can contact Ellison at [email protected]