Region Feels Economic Pinch Of Swollen Mississippi River

Jun 5, 2013

A road is closed in Grafton, Ill., due to flooding.
Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Tourist towns up and down the Mississippi River are feeling the economic pinch of high water, with the swollen waterway overrunning main routes to popular destinations and traffic dwindling.

That’s bad news for places like Clarksville, Mo., which relies heavily on sales tax revenue.  

They’ve stayed mostly dry thanks to efforts to keep the river at bay when it flooded in April, but Mayor Jo Anne Smiley says getting rid of temporary defenses that include 7,000 tons of rock and 500,000 sandbags won’t be cheap.

“Whenever the water goes down, it has to be moved,” Smiley says.  “That is a chore that’s almost equal to getting it in there.”

Smiley says they do expect some state money, but no federal assistance to help them clean up after waters receed.

Even though there wasn't any sandbagging, it's the same story in Grafton, Ill., where the main road into town from St. Louis, State Route 100, has been closed between U.S. 67 in Alton through Pearl in Pike County.

“It's going to have more than a minor impact," says Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson.  "We really depend on sales tax.  Right now we receive more money from sales tax than I do from property tax to run the city.”

Both Smiley and Thompson stress, though, they’re still open for business, even if it might take a little more time to get there.   

It’s been a rough year for the shipping industry, too, barge traffic on the Mississippi River remains at a standstill today in St. Louis.

High water, fast currents and safety concerns prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to shut down the river earlier this week.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay co-chairs the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, a collaborative effort between mayors up and down the river.

He says stalling river traffic is becoming a major economic concern for the entire region.

“It is something that is a threat to our economy and is actually causing some significant damage to our economy now,” Slay says.  “It’s hard to believe just six months ago we were talking about the impact the drought has on the Mississippi River.”

Slay says every day the Mississippi River at St. Louis is closed costs the nation about $300 million in lost economic activity.

The river crested in St. Louis yesterday afternoon and is forecasted to slowly decline in the coming days.

Follow Tim Lloyd on Twitter: @TimSLloyd