SPRINGFIELD – Twenty years ago, communities along the Mississippi River and many other rivers in the Midwest were dealing with the historic, months-long Great Flood of 1993. Despite heroic efforts by local officials and legions of volunteers, dozens of levees were breached, damaging or destroying thousands of homes, businesses and public properties.
Today, rising waterways still present a flood risk for many communities along rivers. But flood mitigation efforts in the past 20 years by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) have helped remove 3,928 structures from flood-prone areas. This action has saved communities from flood-fighting and public safety expenses while helping residents avoid the heartbreak and costs of repeated flood loss.
The flood mitigation efforts are made possible by Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funding the state receives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The program enables state and local governments to work together on cost-effective, long-term mitigation measures that reduce loss of life and property due to natural disasters. The amount of funding made available is a percentage of total federal assistance provided to people and local governments following federally declared disasters.
Since 1993, Illinois has received more than $180.4 million in HMGP funding. In addition to flood mitigation projects, IEMA uses the funds to support mitigation for other hazards, such as earthquakes and wind storms.
“As we saw in 1993 and in more than a dozen floods since then, the rivers win many of the flood battles, no matter how hard we fight,” said IEMA Director Jonathon Monken. “Through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, we’ve helped many communities turn flood-prone areas into open spaces, parks or bike trails. Now when the river floods in these areas, it doesn’t cause such devastating damage to homes, businesses and other structures.”
Nearly 1,900 Properties Affected by 1993 Flood Removed from Floodplain
Thirty-nine Illinois counties were declared federal disaster areas for the 1993 flood. IEMA worked with 30 flood-impacted counties and local jurisdictions on the acquisition of 1,893 homes, businesses and lots at a cost of more than $31 million. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs (now the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity) also funded flood mitigation projects in six communities.
In addition to properties acquired through HMGP following the 1993 flood, FEMA purchased several hundred properties in Illinois under a separate program.
The success of mitigation projects completed since the 1993 flood is evident in many Illinois communities including Grafton, a Jersey County community located at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and just north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. That location subjects the city to flooding nearly every year.
The 1993 flood inundated almost the entire city for months, severely damaging or destroying more than 100 homes. To end the cycle of construction-destruction-reconstruction, Grafton opted to use HMGP funding to acquire 100 properties and turn them into open space. Besides providing a scenic, unobstructed view of the Mississippi River, the acquisition efforts have helped reduce the impact of flooding.
Communities Can Apply for Property Acquisition Funding
In order to receive HMGP funds, a community must have an approved all-hazards mitigation plan. For projects located in a floodplain, the community must also participate in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Projects must be environmentally sound, cost-effective, solve a problem and prevent future disaster damages to be eligible for the program. Approved projects receive 75% federal funding. The local jurisdiction is responsible for 25% of the project costs.
To be considered for property acquisition funding, a county or other local jurisdiction must decide if it wants to participate. IEMA’s mitigation staff members guide local officials on preparation of an application, which then must be approved by FEMA. Property owners decide whether or not they want to participate in their community’s acquisition project. No property is acquired without the owner’s consent. If the application is approved, participating property owners receive payment based on a fair market appraisal of the pre-flood property value.
Currently, 13 community applications are under review by FEMA, and approximately 20 other communities are working on applications.
Flooding this April throughout Illinois resulted in FEMA approval of 35 counties for federal aid to people and households and 40 counties for assistance to local governmental bodies with their flood-related expenses. Illinois will receive additional HMGP funding equal to 15 percent of the final dollar amount for both forms of assistance. The funding will enable IEMA to continue mitigation projects throughout the state.
To date, nearly $140 million in federal grants have been approved for people and households affected by this spring’s flooding. IEMA and FEMA currently are working with local governments on their applications for reimbursement of flood-related expenses. Once those costs are finalized, IEMA will learn how much additional HMGP funding it will receive.
For more information about HMGP, visit the Ready Illinois website at www.Ready.Illinois.gov.