The Metro East Levee system that protects 65 miles of land, residents and businesses from flooding has received its final letter of accreditation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, business and civic leaders in the area announced Wednesday. southwestern Illinois.

“This means that all five levee systems from Alton to Columbia have now been officially re-accredited by FEMA. This project was completed at less than half of original cost estimates and 22 years ahead of schedule if only the federal funds were being used,” said Gary Hoelscher, president of the Southwestern Illinois Leadership Council, during the announcement at the US Central Port District in Granite City, IL.

The system consists of five levees along the Mississippi River in St. Clair, Madison, and Monroe counties. It protects 288,000 people, 4,000 businesses, 56,000 jobs, 111,000 acres and $13.3 billion in assets, according to the board of directors.

In 2007, FEMA announced its intention to decertify the Metro-East Levee system, if the area did not improve levels to meet 100-year flood standards.

“It would have been disastrous for the area,” said Chuck Etwert, chief engineer and construction and works supervisor for the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. “A lot of economic impacts. “

For one thing, without accreditation, residents and businesses would have had to purchase flood insurance, which at the time would have cost the region about $50 million a year. “People couldn’t afford it,” Etwert said.

Local and state officials worked together to find a solution, including forming the Southwest Illinois Flood Prevention District Council. To help pay for these levee improvements, the county councils of St. Clair, Madison, and Monroe counties passed a quarter-cent sales tax.

“It took 15 years to get there, seven years for the creation of the council, the studies and the technical design. Then it took four years to build and it took four years to get FEMA approval,” Etwert said Wednesday.

The original levee system was built in the 1940s through the 1950s. Recent levee construction projects have been designed to stabilize the original levees; no height was added. The projects involved solving problems with sub-infiltration, where water seeps into the soils and under the dyke. The projects constructed shallow and deep bunds, seepage berms, relief wells and pump stations to control seepage.

The project cost around $119 million and faced three major floods during construction which ended in 2018. In 2019, the region experienced the second highest flood on record. It was the longest flood, 126 days and the longest flood, 126 days.

“I’m happy to say that everything we built worked exactly as expected.” said Etwert.

Work continues to bring the levees up to a 500-year flood level.