Barstow & Rock Island County at Odds Over Flood Protection

Feb 1, 2017

The fire station in Barstow may be at a higher risk of flooding because of damage to a dirt levee. That's according to the president of the Carbon Cliff Barstow Fire District.

But Michelle O'Neill reports the land-owner, Rock Island County, has no plans to fix it, and a state agency agrees.


Summary

In the 1970s, the owner of River Oaks trailer park near Barstow wanted residents to be able to reach their homes during floods. So he built a dirt barrier between the backwaters of the Rock River and the mobile homes.

Doug Riel, Pres. of the Carbon Cliff Barstow Fire District
Credit Michelle O'Neill / WVIK News

Doug Riel, President of the fire district, says this levee has protected Barstow and its fire station during high water for years. And he says it doesn't matter if the barrier is certified or not. Rock Island County received a flood buyout grant from FEMA to return the trailer court to its natural state.

Last fall when a contractor removed the old trailers, workers also removed part of the dirt levee to use as fill. Riel says Barstow is lucky a recent ice jam on the Rock River broke upstream. "It just doesn't make sense. The Corps of Engineers and our own analysis show that above 16 feet, water will affect the community of Barstow."

Greg Thorpe is the Director of the Rock Island County Zoning and Building Safety Department. He says the Illinois Department of Natural Resources sent a letter to the county, saying the levee or berm violates state law. And as part of the buyout and cleanup, the county is required to remove the levee, including old sandbags and other debris.

Paul Osman is the floodplain manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. He says the state agency accepts part of the blame because the DNR has very limited resources. It relies on local governments, the county, to enforce state law, too.

Osman also says residents of River Oaks mobile homes piled trash onto the dirt berm, it's in poor condition and was never intended to be flood protection for the Village of Barstow, which is located in the floodplain. "The rotting sandbags and tree roots are a conduit for water. Those can cause a levee to fail."

The floodplain manager also says besides, Barstow Road is higher than the top of the makeshift levee, and could protect the village depending on how high the water gets. Osman says if Rock Island County or residents of the village want to keep it, they have to prove the water isn't harming others across the Rock River or downstream and get a permit.

Residents and businesses in Barstow could also apply for buyouts or government help to raise their buildings.

0518 Barstow Levee Violation by Lacy Scarmana on Scribd