Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fight Continues Over Use of New Madrid Floodway

The fight is now in the federal courts over whether to blow the levee below Cairo in order to save the city. The area in question is the New Madrid Floodway and was designed to be flooded in emergencies.

Since the 1927 Mississippi River Flood that has only happened once, in 1937. The Corps of Engineers wants to open a gap while Missouri is fighting to block the flooding.

Here's the area in question that would be flooded. Basically, there is a levee along the Mississippi on the right side of the area and another levee protecting a larger section of communities on the left side of the designated area.

The map is my best estimate based on the existing levee roads. The area stretches from Bird's Point, Mo., opposite Cairo, to New Madrid.

View New Madrid Floodway in a larger map

Crest Prediction Lowered a Bit

The National Weather Service is lowering its predicted crest of the Ohio River to 60.5 feet on Monday due to plans to release less water from Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

Still unknown is whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will blow a hole in the levee just below Cairo and flood 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland. The Missouri Attorney General sued in federal court today to stop the plans, which have been standard operating procedure for decades since the feds purchased flowage rights to the land following the levee building after the 1927 Mississippi River flood.

In 1937, they blew the levee when the water reached a little above 58 feet at Cairo, which it will be sometime before morning as it was 57.11 feet at 6 p.m. Back then, it lowered the water nine inches at Cairo before the river started rising again.

Dynamite Agains Becomes An Option

In a repeat of what happened in 1937, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering the dynamite option, Fox News reports.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was considering the extraordinary step of intentionally breaching the Birds Point levee in southeast Missouri, just downriver of the confluence, in a bid to reduce the amount of water moving down the Mississippi. The move would soak 130,000 acres of farmland, and Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon objected to the idea. A decision was expected Tuesday.

This is part of a plan put in place after the levees were built following the disastrous 1927 Mississippi River Flood. They did it in '37 to help save Cairo and it worked.

[For the history go here at IllinoisHistory.com]

Then Cairo was a city of 14,000, now it's down to 2,800. In 1937, the river was getting close to overtopping the levee in Cairo. So far that's not the case — yet. The latest prediction is a crest next Tuesday at 61 feet, three feet below the top of the levee, and 18 inches above the '37 record.

Right now the biggest levee worry is along the Black River at Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where more than 10 inches of rain has fallen over a wide area since Friday night, according to the radar estimates.

At Cairo, the city council met last night to discuss evacuations. So far, eight families have notified police they are leaving. River levels were 56.6 feet last hour at 10 a.m., more than seven feet below the levee top. In 1937, the evacuations of women and children began on Jan. 25, a week before the Feb. 3rd crest when waters reached 58 feet, just two feet shy of the then 60-foot levees.

The biggest problem if the water doesn't overflow the levee itself like it is at Poplar Bluff, becomes sand boils.

The major problem by Feb. 2, 1937, became the dreaded "'sand boils' bursting up in the heart of Cairo Tuesday forenoon, gave warning of deeply undermined flood barriers. Emergency squads rushed to the danger spots, dumping hundreds of sandbags on the miniature "geysers" boiling through the then strata of protective surface over the city's foundation of sand."

Back then, a crew of 4,500 men manned the levees, adding sandbags, quickly adjusting to whatever was the latest danger. Approximately 1,500 were townsmen, 500 WPA workers, some CCC enrollees and the by one account (I know the math doesn't add up), 4,000 federal and state troops.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New Forecast Pushes Cairo River Stage to Record 61 Feet

The latest forecast from the National Weather Service ups its crest prediction for Cairo from 60 to 61 feet as of next Tuesday. That compares with the record set in 1937 at 59.5.

The river should rise past the 1937 record by 7 a.m. Thursday and reach 60 feet by 7 p.m. that day. Back in '37, 60 feet was the height of levee. Thankfully the Corps of Engineers raised the levees another four feet since then.

River Levels to Bust Cairo's 1937 Record Next Week

It's official, the river forecast for Cairo will surpass the record 1937 flood level.

I've been wondering if the AP had the wrong information and now it seems to be confirmed. There have been a number of reports that the river would "crest" Friday a foot below record stage at Cairo. The charts I was looking at from the NWS didn't show a crest, just the last point in the forecast Friday.

According to the Ohio and Lower Mississippi River Forecast on another page from last night at 7:40 p.m., the Ohio River expected to crest (meaning its highest point) will be on May 3, a week from Tuesday, at 60 feet which is a half a foot below the all-time record of 59.5 feet set on Feb. 3, 1937.

One of the important things to notice about the first chart is the difference between what was actually measured this afternoon and what was forecasted. The actual measurement was higher than the forecast. That's not good.

Unlike the 1937 flood which started upstream on the Ohio and came down to an only moderately flooded Mississippi, this one is appears to be due to heavy rains here in the Midwest with both major rivers in flood stage. Upriver on the Ohio is not so bad.

Paducah is expected to see a crest of 55 feet on the 3rd as well which will surpass all records except the big one of '37. That year it was 60.6 feet. While that's still major flooding for lands outside the levees, it's not at the point that would normally impact the heavy industries upstream at Calvert City, Ky. It's also well below the levee height of 64 feet.

A key note to last night's flood forecast by the NWS. They based it on 48 hours of future rainfall rather than the normal 24 hours. "River sages may potentially be 1-3 ft higher in some areas with 5 days of future rainfall."

That doesn't give a whole lot of wiggle room for Cairo. The expected 60 foot crest is just four feet below the top of the levees protecting Cairo.

Upriver Mounds and Mound City have another foot of protection. Their levees don't get topped until the river at Cairo is 65 feet.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rains Raise River Projections, Cairo Could Top Record

With this weekend's storms already dumping 4 to 6 inches of rain throughout Southern Illinois and more on the way, the Ohio River at Cairo could reach record levels later this week if the projected trend of river levels continues.

The river was at 52.76 feet a few minutes ago at 1 p.m. Major flood stage at 53 feet will be reached within a few hours.

The National Weather Forecast only goes out to Friday morning when they project 58.5 feet, just one foot before the record of 59.5 set back in the 1937 record flood.

At around 1 a.m. Wednesday the river is expected to reach 56 feet. At that point U.S. Rt. 51 near Wickliffe, Ky., floods. Later that day the river will surpass the 1997, 1927 and 1975 floods at 56.2, 56.4 and 56.5 feet.

Even if the water hits the 1937 flood levels at Cairo, the city still has another 4.5 feet of levee height to protect it.

I'll have to pull out some history, but if I recall correctly, the mayor of Cairo ordered the city evacuated except for all albe-bodied male citizens who were required to stay and assist with sandbagging and other emergency efforts.

The situation is quite as bad at Paducah where the river was 46.36 feet at 1 p.m. and is projected to reach 53 feet on Friday, which means it will likely surpass the fourth worst crest of 53.2 feet from the 1950 flood.

If the tornado and storms of yesterday didn't cause damaged already, property damage from flooding will begin at 47 feet. At 49.5 feet, the first flood gate will be closed at Paducah. If it hasn't been done already, it will be likely be closed tomorrow as that level will be reached within the next 24 to 30 hours. Major flooding will begin to occur on both sides of the river when the waters reach 52 feet which is currently predicted for around 1 p.m. Thursday.

If waters continue to rise the next major impact occurs at 56 feet (which would be the second worst flood after the '37 one). At that point many of the industrial plants upstream at Calvert City, Ky., become impacted.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tornado Targets Another Airport — This Time at Cairo

You'd think airports were turning into trailer parks with the damaged they've taken in the last 24 hours.

A tornado hit St. Louis International Airport last night blowing off parts of the roof and windows throughout the terminals. The airport reopened today and expects to be up to 70 percent capacity by Sunday.

This afternoon less than four hours ago another tornado hit the Cairo Regional Airport at Klondike in Alexander County, causing extensive damage at the airport as well as the hanger damaged as well.

Carbondale Tourism Office Moving Out of Mall

Tourists to Carbondale will soon be able to visit a new tourism office near the SIU campus on South Illinois Avenue starting in June.

Debbie Moore, executive director of the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau, announced the planned move last week. The bureau's current office in the University Mall.

"We want to be more accessible to the students, so we can provide enhanced learning opportunities," Executive Director Debbie Moore said in a statement. "Our move isn't only based upon the needs of current students. We also see a need to be a better information resource for students' parents and for visiting alumni, who frequently seek travel information."

Moore also said plans were underway for a website, which is much needed.

Opportunity Exists to Right Wrongs in Old Water Plan at Rend Lake

On the surface water allocation rights don't seem to be a topic important to Southern Illinois tourism, but John Tranquilli, Ph.D., retired director of the Office of Resource Management at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources dives into the topic and how it's important to recreation use at Rend Lake.

Tranquilli made the points in a column in the Southern Illinoisan earlier this week.
In 1970, when Rend Lake was first built, the primary purpose for the lake was municipal and industrial water supply. At that time, the Office of Water Resources of the state of Illinois was given responsibility by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for the allocation of up to 109,000 acre feet of water from the "joint use pool" at Rend Lake. The joint use pool is defined as the volume of water in Rend Lake from an elevation of 405 feet above sea level to 391 feet above sea level. The initial water allocation gave no consideration to the impact of this allocation on outdoor recreation or natural resources at Rend Lake.

The key phrase is "no consideration to the impact... on outdoor recreation." That impact to the local economy has grown to around $30 million annually.

It's because recreation wasn't taken into consideration 41 years ago that leaves us to the mudflats that are all too frequent at the lake.

The spillway at Rend Lake is presently uncontrolled with the bottom of the notch at an elevation of 405 feet. When the water reaches the bottom of the notch, only 2 feet of water remains before recreational interests are impaired, but under OWR's 40-year-old contract, they are willing and able to continue removing water until the lake level falls to 399 feet. In fact, according to OWR's contract, more than 50 percent of the water allocated to them is still available, in spite of the fact that at the current allocation rate the lake has already reached 403 feet on 10 separate occasions. This disparity must be corrected to protect outdoor recreation.

The good news is that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is presently updating its Water Control Plan at the lake. Tranquilli supports retrofitting the notch to 407 feet providing another two feet of water depth.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ohio River Rising Back for an Encore

Rising river levels aren't threatening the lodging facilities in Hardin County, but the extended closing of the ferry at Cave-in-Rock is hurting local restaurants who rely on Kentucky customers unable to make it.

I did a book run to Hardin County on March 1, and rising waters were just getting to the stage that the ferry was planning to close in a couple of days. After three weeks or so the waters receded and the ferry reopened. Now another round of flooding closed it again Sunday.

By Tuesday before the storms hit, the water was already up to the alley behind the buildings along Main Street. Water Street which is the parking area along the river is under water.

Down at Elizabethtown, the water's not a problem for the Rose Hotel and the River Rose Inn across the street. It is a problem for the floating E'town River Restaurant. The eatery is supposed to be in the water, but not the parking lot and Front Street. It normally opens for the season in April.

Upstream at Shawneetown, the National Weather Service is reporting flood waters at 42.68 feet this morning at 1 a.m. not quite reaching the Moderate Flood Stage level of 43 feet. Major Flood Stage is 53 feet there. They only forecast out one week. The water is expected to continue rising with a projection of 47 feet next Thursday. That's still seven feet below the 1997 flood and well below the 1937 levels of 65.64 feet.

Downstream, at Golconda the National Weather Service is forecasting rising waters throughout the next seven days. Flood stage is 40 feet and the river was 44.57 feet this morning at 1 a.m. It's projected to be at 47.9 feet in a week. Moderate Flood Stage is at 50 feet.

The river is at 45.1 feet at Paducah, just two feet over the start of Moderate Flood Stage. Major stage doesn't start until the water is at 52 feet which was the winter crest back in 1867, not that anyone remembers that one. The record flood of 1937 was 60.60 feet at Paducah.

It's a bigger issue at Cairo. It's supposed to be 51.8 feet at Cairo by Monday morning, just a little over a foot away from what they describe as Major Flood Stage. That's five feet below the March 1997 high water mark and just under 8 feet below the 1937 flood.

Chicago Man Pushing for Urban Winery in Windy City

The Illinois wine industry that for the most part remains nestled in the hills at the edge of the state, whether up near Galena or down in the Shawnee Hills, may soon its first urban competitor.

Chicago redeveloper Bill Lavicka wants to take an 19th Century country mansion in the Washington Park neighborhood of Chicago and turn it into a winery, complete with locally-grown grapes planted on what's now city-owned vacant blocks. The Chicago Tribune has the story.


Updates on new Holiday Inn Express, One-Stop

Reed Station Hotels LLC out of Carbondale took out a Marion building permit last week on the 11th for their new Holiday Inn Express on The Hill in Marion.

Located at 2609 Blue Heron Dr, the inn will be located immediately to the east of MidCountry Bank and across the road in front of Rent One Park. Charlie Brown of Carbondale is the principal driver behind the hotel. His group also owns the Holiday Inn in Carbondale and has built others as well.

The building permit, the 22nd of the year so far, is the largest project to date at $4.7 million. Speakeasy Liquors is the second biggest.

Clearwave Communication took out building permit March 31 for a $560,000 office and mechanical building at 1100 Golf Drive immediately west of Marion Suburu. In other construction matters the city has issued  permits this year for four new homes and three triplex apartments.

There's no official word yet on the new Ron's One-Stop slated for the southwest corner of Route 13 and Halfway Road. In the last few weeks crews took out the gas tanks and torn down the old station. No building permit has been filed yet. It's supposed to be similar to the Ron's One-Stop on the east side of the interstate, except there won't be gas. Instead it will be a combination convenience store, focusing on tobacco products and liquor. An application for a liquor license supposedly has already been submitted.

Meanwhile, up Halfway Road, Speakeasy Liquor announced a few hours ago that they're now taking applications for employment on their Facebook page.

Friday, April 08, 2011

New River to River Trail Guide Available

The 4th edition of the River to River Trail Guide is now available for hikers and backpackers.

The new edition covers reroutes of the trail in recent years in the Lusk Creek Wilderness Area, Crab Orchard Fish and Wildlife Area and Pine Hills region. But the most notable difference in the new guide from the previous guides is the size.

...The guide is more than a trail section to trail section guide for backpackers. It gives information on legends of the area, such as a brief history of Anna Bixby who was credited with the discovery of milk sickness, a discussion of weirdness associated with the Max Creek Vortex, information on canoing opportunities and a chapter on the American Discovery Trail from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts of which the RTR Trail is a part. Those passages may not be vital to someone looking to the next turn in the course of a multi-day trek, but may help pass a few minutes at an end-of-day campfire.

The guide also is the first to show the official change of the eastern edge of the trail of Battery Rock to Elizabethtown which was made last year.

Copies of the guide can be purchased from Big John's in Eldorado, the Shawnee National Forest headquarters in Harrisburg as well as Bookworm in Marion and Carbondale. Orders can also be placed directly with John O'Dell, president of the trail society at 618-252-6789.

Supreme Court Clears Issue for Sparta Shooters

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled 7-0 yesterday to void the prosecution of an Indiana man arrested with a firearm, but no Illinois-issued FOID (Firearm Owners I.D.) card.

Although the arrest had nothing to do with tourism, the prosecution sent shivers to organizers and promoters of the World Shooting Complex at Sparta. The Supreme Court threw out the argument that a non-resident had to possess an Illinois-issued FOID card since state law limited FOID cards to residents in the first place.

Had the ruling been upheld the impact could have been crippling to the complex as its hosts shooters from across the country and many different countries.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Mayors for C'dale, H'burg and P'ville

Cities play an important role in tourism in Southern Illinois and while tourism never plays a key role in city races whoever wins those races tend to play an important role in tourism, even if just indirectly.

Marion voters re-elected Mayor Bob Butler to a 13th term in a three-way race with 58 percent of the vote. Ironically, prior to the Millennium Development project Butler was actually contemplating retirement.

In Franklin County, voters kept incumbent Mayor Gary Kraft and the entire city council in Benton. Among his other points Kraft was one of the organizers and a key volunteer in developing the Franklin County Jail Museum. Down the road in West Frankfort, voters gave Tom Jordan his own four-year term as mayor following his appointment last year first as finance commissioner and then stepping up as mayor when Marion Presley died.

Over in Perry County voters weren't so satisfied. DuQuoin voters barely returned John Rednour as mayor in what appears to be the closest race in the region. He defeated a strong challenge by Guy Alongi by just 16 votes. To the northwest in Pinckneyville voters replaced incumbent Mayor Joe Holder with Finance Commissioner August Kellerman in a four-way race.

In Carbondale, Joel Fritzler who came in third in the primary surged ahead and took the lead in today's general election to succeed Brad Cole who didn't run and has taken a job on the staff of U.S. Senator Mark Kirk.

Last but not least, former Saline County Board Chairman and state representative candidate Eric Gregg won an open five-way race for mayor of Harrisburg. In Eldorado incumbent Mayor Rocky James easily defeated his challenger.

In another race that will impact tourism challengers swept out four incumbents in the Marion Unit 2 District school board race. What that means for the administration is unknown, but it's expected that the district will now be dropping its ridiculous lawsuit over the Williamson County Pavilion and whether or not the non-profit corporation that operates the city-owned property should be paying property taxes.

Signs That the Recovery Is Here (or at least near)

Not only did the Great Recession (extended needlessly by Washington politicians clueless to past history) kill off Marion's Circuit City distribution facility and the all-but-announced Target distribution center on the east side, but it also put a stop to some smaller projects near the Interstate.

For the last couple of weeks though signs, like the spring flowers, are popping up that these long-delayed, or at least long-contemplated projects are about to bloom.

To be honest, both of these as of yesterday still haven't taken out building permits with the city, but site work is progressing.

At the corner of Route 13 and Halfway Road, owners of the old Amoco station across the street from the truck stop, had all but the north end of the building down yesterday. This was the first gas station west of the interstate built in the mid 1960s.

Originally built as a service station with a garage, over the years different owners have redesigned it as a convenience store, but it's just been too small and too inefficient a design. Between the truck stop on one side and the FiveStar Food Mart across the highway that opened in 2007, it was only a matter of time. Now the word in some of the neighboring businesses is that it's a new station.

Ron Kruep of Mount Vernon owns the Ron's One-Stop chain of stations in the region. He's never hesitated to close down, sell off, or just completely rebuild from scratch when needed. He already has the One-Stop on the east side of the interstate at Route 13 and Carbon.

Up Halfway Road will be an even bigger development just east of MidCountry Bank on Blue Heron Drive. They cut an entrance in the retaining wall on Morgan a few months ago, and for the last couple of weeks there's been a new sign. Marion, it appears, will be getting a new Holiday Inn Express.

Based on past interviews with the owner Charlie Brown who also has the new award-winning Holiday Inn at Carbondale, the Marion facility will be 101 rooms. (At least that's what I remember though to be honest I can't find my notes right now).

Unlike the Carbondale facility it will not have a restaurant attached to the property. However, if you check out the map for The Hill, there is an outlot between the new hotel and Stadium Drive that could become home to (say, ahem, an Olive Gardens possibly?) That's just speculation based on a long-running rumor. I've also heard of another location for the long-sought eatery on the west side, though with the Millennium Development all bets are off as to where such a restaurant might locate. Over the years Olive Gardens rumors have popped up almost as much as the Busch Gardens one.

Right now Williamson County has about 1245 rooms available with 1108 inside the Marion city limits. The new hotel would place Marion about at the same level as Mount Vernon in terms of rooms along the interstate. Even with 1209 rooms, it would still be less than half of what Paducah supports.

The proposed destination hotel in the Millennium Development project would bring another 300 to 450 rooms based on what the smaller Great Wolf Lodge inns offer. (A GWL hasn't been confirmed, but just given as an example by the developers of what they would like to attract.)

Brown's company has owned the land for the new Holiday Inn since at least 2007, but has not moved forward due to the credit crunch caused by the recession. Though it's never been formally announced, the project was one of three hotels looking at building in Marion around 2006-2007.

Jim Zeller went ahead and got the Country Inn and Suites up and running before the recession hit. A third developer bought the land behind Sao's Asian Bistro but has never developed it.

Meanwhile the new Speakeasy Liquors now under construction on Halfway Road has the roof. According to their Facebook page they will be holding a job fair later this month, but as of tonight have not set a date.