By Matt Sepic, St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis – The head of the Flood Prevention District in the Metro East says fixing aging levees is the St. Louis region's most urgent issue.
Last week, the Army Corps of Engineers discovered a leak in the Wood River Levee near the Melvin Price Lock and Dam in East Alton, Ill. The corps said the levee is not in danger of failing now, but it could give way during a flood.
Les Sterman, who heads the Southwestern Illinois Flood Prevention District, said the incident highlights the urgency of fixing the entire levee system.
"Honestly, you can't add any more urgency to this situation," Sterman said. "The economic impacts on this part of the St. Louis region, on the St. Louis region as a whole, are so severe, and I'm not sure people fully recognize that yet."
Sterman said a major flood in the Metro East could cripple the region's economy by shutting down heavy industry including petroleum refining, chemical production and steel making.
He said inspections of the Metro East levees should be wrapped up early next year, along with a more definite cost estimate for repairs.
Early estimates from the Corps indicate fixing the levee system could cost as much as 500 million dollars.
People in three Illinois counties began paying a quarter cent sales tax this year to fund upgrades.