New maps show flood risk at University Town Center site

Steve Korris Nov. 1, 2009, 11:26pm

Levees protecting the site of a proposed 900 acre mall in Glen Carbon could fail in the next big flood, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

New insurance maps show flood risk all the way from the Mississippi River to Illinois Route 157, at the base of the bluff that rises from the flood plain.

John Bishop, map modernization manager at Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the maps reflect decertification of the levees by the Corps of Engineers.

He said the new maps show where water would rise if no levees existed.

The maps show that in a flood like 1993, the river would cover most of the mall site and creep over the intersection of Routes 157 and 162, at the development's southern end.

Congressman Jerry Costello of Belleville introduced a bill in July that would prevent adoption of the new maps.

The bill would preserve old maps that assume the levees will hold.

New maps, if signficantly different, could interfere with the development of a giant mall known as University Town Center at the interchange of Illinois Route 157 and Interstate 270, in Glen Carbon.

According to the development's spokesperson, Rebecca Rausch, "plans for University Town Center as broadly discussed specify it will be constructed above the new base flood elevation at 434 feet."

"Given that University Town Center would be constructed above the base flood elevation contained in the new maps, suspending the flood insurance rate map updates has no impact on University Town Center," Rausch said.

But Kathy Andria, president of American Bottoms Conservancy, said that an engineer that had been consulted regarding the project said raising the development 16 feet above flood plain would cost "at a minimum a couple hundred million dollars, all at taxpayer expense."

The mall development group includes the Congressman's son, John Costello.

Insurance rates are in part dependent on risk maps, so for economic purposes the old maps and the new maps could place the mall in two different worlds.

Washington University hydrologist Robert Criss, who opposes flood plain development, said Costello's bill won't matter in the long run.

"Insurance or no insurance, taxpayers are going to get left holding the bag," he said.

Criss worries that the Corps of Engineers hasn't kept up with river changes.

"Floods are getting worse," he said.

He wrote in Environmental Health Perspectives last year that in 15 years, sites in Iowa and Missouri endured two floods above the official level of a 500 year flood.

For Hannibal, he proposed to redefine the 100 year flood as a ten year flood.

In 25 years, he wrote, Hannibal suffered a 500 year flood, a 200 year flood, a 50 to 100 year flood, two 25 to 50 year floods, and five 10 to 25 year floods.

He asked, "Are these calculated recurrence intervals reasonable, or is it more likely that the dice, in effect, are loaded?"

In an interview he called the Corps of Engineers "the pork arm of Congress."

He said, "They are full of crap. It's not that they are just a little bit wrong."

He said a mall would be "an economic negative for everybody except the few people that are in on it."

He said it could increase property values from $1,000 per acre to $1 million.

"That's pretty neat, increasing by a factor of a thousand overnight," he said.

"You have to be on the inside to get on the gravy train," he said.

"It's a transfer of wealth like TARP and bonuses for bankers," he said.

He said there are many reasons not to build on a flood plain.

"It is insane to take the best ag land in the world and convert it to strip malls," he said.

"Ten percent of the earth is really good farm land," he said.

"It's just criminal to go ahead on foggy science, and the taxpayers are liable for the results," he said.

Costello's chief of staff, David Gillies, denied on Oct. 23 that Costello's bill works to the advantage of his son.

Costello also issued a statement saying it was "totally inaccurate" that his legislation has a connection to the University Town Center project.

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