A muddy path forward as towns cope with Mississippi River’s rage

A muddy path forward as towns cope with Mississippi River’s rage

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Communities along the Mississippi River are still trying to recover from historic 2019 flooding. Not all of them have clear directions for the path forward. The river’s fury left a wake of irreparable damage in some cases and difficult decisions.

“Where do we go from here?” said Jason Tubbs, a village trustee in East Cape Girardeau, Illinois.

That’s a question for many communities along the Mississippi.

“It’s the longest the water’s ever been up,” said Tubbs.

The small agriculture town flooded this year, cutting off road access and devastating farms. It is a reality Tubbs never thought possible.

“How do you tell people they can’t come back?” said Tubbs.

He says as of now there is no light at the end of this inundated tunnel. He is waiting for assistance of any kind but is not getting enough. The trailer park in town was condemned. There are houses that require so much repair, some are just leaving them to the weeds. Town Hall flooded so official meetings now take place at the Pit Stop, a pizza and sports joint.

“Throwing in the towel isn’t an option,” said Tubbs.

But he does not know what options there are. East Cape Girardeau is in limbo as sandbags still line the streets.

“This has forever changed our lives,” said Tubbs.

As East Cape continues to struggle, other towns managed to confront the flooding head on.

Just a few months ago the Mississippi River was knocking on the door of Kimmswick, Missouri, rising to historic levels. A last minute levee built by folks from town prevented flooding in the historic town center.

Building that levee cost the town $150,000 they won’t get back, because Jefferson County did not qualify for relief payments. To pile onto that, the town had to make the tough decision to cancel its annual strawberry festival -- a big tourist draw and an event that brings in one third of Kimmswick’s operating budget.

“We’ll make it. Uncomfortably. But we’ll make it,” said Mayor Phil Stang.

Stang says the river put his town of 150 in a tight spot, meaning no spending on anything in 2020 besides “essential services.” But Stang can exhale, because the pipe-smoking mayor has a plan: The Delta Queen.

“We’ve really tried in the past few years to up our game and move along that way,” said Stang.

Stang pushed the historic steamboat company to set up shop in Kimmswick, making the town the port of call for when it sets sail in 2020. He says the Delta Queen will bring in 600 percent of their current budget. That’s more than enough revenue to fight flood threats in the future. And a solution to a problem that doesn’t seem to be drifting away anytime soon.

“We will be in good shape for the future,” said Stang. “We just have to get there first.”

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