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Government, Politics & Issues

IL Sen. Durbin Addresses Centreville Flooding Issues. Locals Feel Left Out

022020_BND_CentrevilleFlooding_01
File / Derik Holtmann
/
Belleville News-Democrat
In this file photo from 2020, Centreville resident Walter Byrd talks about flooding and sewer issues that he and his neighbors have been battling for years. Byrd lives in the area near Illinois 157 and Lake Drive in Centreville.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin visited Centreville on Friday to acknowledge the flooding and sewage issues in the area and pledge his support for fixing them.

But a group of residents who have been at the forefront of advocating for solutions said they weren’t informed of the senator’s visit.

“I don’t like it at all, “ said Patricia Greenwood, a member of Centreville Citizens for Change, an alliance of residents who regularly face flooding problems in their homes. “They should’ve contacted us because, truthfully, we’re the ones who started all of this, and nobody told us.”

Durbin is the latest official, on the state and federal level, to publicly address the flooding conditions in Centreville. Last month, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker visited the city and vowed to support finding resources for flooding relief. In July, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth held a meeting with residents and local officials on how to better address the flooding and sewage issues.

Durbin’s visit on Friday included a tour of the Harding Ditch, which contributes to some of the sewage issues, and a press conference nearby.

“It is fundamental that all of us want to control the flow of water... I’ve joined with Sen. Tammy Duckworth to do a joint effort to try to help all of the communities, but starting with Cahokia Heights, to find out if there are resources we can bring in here that are going to spare these people of the heartache and the damage they have regularly because of the flooding in their homes,” Durbin said.

Cahokia Heights will be the name of a new town formed by the consolidation of Centreville, Cahokia and Alorton. The three towns will officially merge on May 6, when leaders of the new city will be sworn in.

Durbin also held a private meeting with Centreville residents prior to the tour and press conference. Residents involved in Centreville Citizens for Change said they weren’t aware of the meeting.

Residents in Centreville, an impoverished area that’s predominantly Black, have endured persistent flooding and sewage damages to their homes and neighborhoods for decades. The environmental crisis has received minimal help from local leaders who have said solving the issue is more complicated than what a local government can do on its own. They said it requires federal and state funding. Last summer, two Centreville residents filed a lawsuit against the city and other local entities over the persistent problems.

During his visit Friday, Durbin discussed the complexity of the flooding issue, including the nearby Harding Ditch. He said improvements on cleaning the ditch are necessary and take time, although he couldn’t specify when those improvements would be completed.

“This Harding Ditch, we believe it was named after President Harding, and it was probably built around the time that he was president 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, and we’re still using this ditch for water flow, to start water flow away from these communities,” Durbin said. “The ditch, as you can see, gets loaded up with all sorts of silt as well as trees, branches and debris, which backs up into these communities.”

Although Durbin said that most of those improvements and efforts are still in the works, he echoed his support for the recent FEMA grant for which Centreville, Alorton and Cahokia applied.

'WE HAVE TO COME WITH A POSITIVE, OPEN MIND'

Joseph Jackson Jr. was the lone Centreville resident who spoke during the press conference. Although he’s aware of Centreville Citizens for Change’s work, he isn’t a part of the group. He was one of roughly six residents who attended the private meeting with Durbin on Friday morning. He said it was a productive conversation that he thinks will lead to tangible changes.

“It seems like we’ll be getting some help now,” Jackson said. “I know I’ve been suffering a long time. I’ve been out here for 58 years. I don’t think anybody can beat that. I know what’s going on. Every three to five years, it gets worse. Two to three days when it rains straight, I have to get a hotel room ... Now is not the time to point the blame. We can’t fix the repairs (immediately), but we can come together for future solutions.”

Jackson said his home on 61st Street and Lake Drive has been inundated with flooding for the past 12 years. However, he said that he’s hopeful that changes will come if everyone agrees to work together.

“We have to come with a positive, open mind to fix the issue,” he said.

For Greenwood, Durbin’s visit was a “slap in the face.” She’s also concerned about the lack of transparency with the FEMA grant, which she also wasn’t made aware of.

“It felt like a snub,” Greenwood, who has lived in her Piat Place home since the 1960’s, said. “If I hadn’t heard about it in the news, then I wouldn’t have known.”

Durbin said he won’t neglect anyone as his office tries to find solutions to the issue.

“We’re not turning our backs on anybody,” Durbin said. “We solve this problem, it’s going to take into account the homes and the residents and the challenges that they’re facing. We’ve got to get to the root of the problem, and the root of the problem is if the water is not flowing in this ditch, it’s flowing in the basement of homes of people who live in these communities. So we start at the beginning. Let’s get this ditch in good shape so that the water can flow and the sanitary sewer system solves the problem as well.”

Durbin was joined by local officials such as Sen. Chris Belt, (D-Centreville,) Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) and Centreville Township Supervisor Curtis McCall Sr, who’s the mayor-elect of Cahokia Heights.

McCall, who’s one of the defendants of the lawsuit, said fixing the flooding, sewer and drainage issues is his main goal when he takes office next month.

“As the mayor of Cahokia Heights, my number one priority will be the sewer issue that’s facing our residents and also the drainage problems that we have,” the mayor-elect said. “To the citizens of Cahokia Heights who’ve been dealing with this problem for decades now, we want to say that help is on the way. Sen. Durbin just didn’t come here to listen to our concerns. I want to thank him for coming out and seeing the problem as well.”

DeAsia Paige is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a reporting partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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