JEFFERSON CITY — As the risk of flooding persists in Missouri, levee repair during emergencies may soon become easier to finance.
The House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee met this week to discuss HB 2161, which would make it easier to borrow money to finance levee repair during an emergency, as well as several other bills.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, removes the condition that owners of two-thirds of the acreage in a levee district must agree to borrow money. Instead, the levee district board can move forward with a simple two-thirds majority of voters present at a board meeting during a disaster.
Proponents of the bill, an update to one passed in the wake of floods in the 1990s, argued that in an emergency, gaining approval from two-thirds of all eligible voters is cumbersome and time consuming.
Some levee districts already had the ability to take on debt with permission of those attending the meeting, but this is only the result of a legal relic.
The original law allows districts that President Bill Clinton had designated a disaster area in 1993 or 1995 to use the expedited process. The update removes that requirement and allows any levee district that has experienced a flood disaster in the last year to move to involve repair crews quickly.
“After the great floods in ’93 and ’95, the Missouri legislature recognized the importance of local flood protection for proper floodplain management and resiliency,” said David Human, a lawyer specializing in flood and levee law. “We respectfully ask you to recognize the same threat, to reinstate these financial tools that were provided to districts to recover from these historic, great events.”
Repairs often fall to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but they can take up to 18 months to arrive, Rone testified.
Representatives from BNSF Railway and the Missouri Railroad Association spoke in opposition to the bill,arguing that the expedition of the borrowing process might make them liable for extra tax bills because of their significant land holdings in levee districts all over the state.
In other business, the committee heard testimony supporting the transfer of several state historic sites in Ste. Genevieve to the National Parks System, as it continues to create a National Historic Site where many of the first buildings west of the Mississippi were built. The bill proposes transferring three sites — two historic houses as well as the Green Tree Tavern, dated to 1790.
“One of the things I consistently hear from the National Park Service is ‘When we’re in there, we’re in there forever,’” said Paul Hassler, mayor of Ste. Genevieve. “They do everything with excellence, and I’m sure they’re going to do that here in Ste. Genevieve.”
The committee also sent two bills to the House floor for a vote. One mandates that the Department of Natural Resources provide assistance to small businesses applying for permits, while the other allows the state to purchase a cemetery in Antioch.
The historically African American site would be acquired to stave off increasing dilapidation, but some are opposed. Many with family members in the cemetery are concerned that the government acquisition would prevent families from being buried together.