Levee and drainage districts face more problems

Officials with local drainage districts are facing even more problems these days as they struggle to fight for the funding they say they are owed.

We talked with officials with some local drainage districts in Illinois who say FEMA and IEMA are holding up the recovery process due to a lack of communication and by not letting out work bids in a timely manner.

It's been nearly six months since levees broke in South Indian Graves and Lima Lake Drainage Districts.

Although for many the flood is over, for the folks who call the Mississippi River bottoms their home or their livelihood, the fight to recovery is still very much alive.

The Hunt and Lima Lake Drainage Districts were flooded with more than 11 feet of water when the levee collapsed in Meyer, Illinois.

Thousands of acres of crops were ruined and many homes were destroyed. Now when farmers were hoping to get help in recovery, many feel they're being hung out to dry.

For the second time this year, farmers in the Hunt Drainage District had to remove their pumps inside their pumping station in anticipation of rising water. But this time they're not fighting the Mississippi, they say they're fighting the Federal and Illinois Emergency Management Agencies.

Sam Zumwalt is the Chairman of the Hunt Drainage District.

Zumwalt said, "We're trying to convince FEMA this disaster isn't over until this pump station is done. Corps can't do the job until we have maintenance pumping and FEMA has bailed out of that issue."

Zumwalt says FEMA let out the bids to pump his district for 7 months. After 28 days FEMA officials threatened to cut off this temporary maintenance pumping like you see here. The pump is necessary to keep this district dry and re-bid the project out again.

Stand-up: Without maintenance pumping seepage water and water from ditches and creeks in the area will collect around this pump house. When that happens it floods inside the pumping station here. And when that happens crews with the Army Corps of engineers and Bleigh Construction aren't able to work inside the pumping station, which pushes off the recovery even more.

The project is already slated to take 220 days to complete, which pushes recovery back to mid-2009. And that means if there is another wet year like we saw in 2008, there will be no protection for farmers and residents.

This land represents homes and/or livelihoods of more than 70 area families. But FEMA officials say since it's not developed enough, the drainage districts have to pay 25 percent of the cost. And that's putting a lot of pressure on districts whose members just lost their entire years income and face another year of high seed and fertilizer prices.

Zumwalt said, "We can't afford it. Our disaster isn't over. They seem to arbitrarily pick a date and say its done and want to walk away."

Just before maintenance pumping was set to stop for Hunt, FEMA granted a temporary order to continue it on an as needed basis. That's helping crews get in to start work on pumps here but no one knows how long that will last, or how much it will cost.

KHQA contacted officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get their side of the story. They told KHQA it's not uncommon for them to extend maintenance pumping for a drainage district, it just takes a extension. Those extensions can be as long as 6 months.

Is not helpiing with funds for maintenance pumping bailing out on farmers and their families?

Victor Kurz, FEMA Branch Director for Public Assistance said, "No, there are certain requirements for the grant program. This is a federal grant they're receiving and on that grant there's certain documentation they need to provide. We have staff more than willing to help them put things together."

Kurz said, "We're certainly not abandoning farmers and families out there but there are some things we're not allowed to provide assistance for, but to protect public and private property we can do."

We've learned in Missouri and Iowa, state emergency management agencies are picking up part of the local cost for maintenance pumping.

According to Senator Dick Durbin's office IEMA was allocated 35 million in Federal dollars to to help with recovery in the state. Local drainage districts tell us so far they've received no assistance from IEMA to help cover their shared cost for pumping.