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Southern Illinois village at risk if no FEMA levee approval

The fate of a Mississippi River levee that's awaiting a decision on federal accreditation could put a southern Illinois village at risk of destructive flooding, the village president says.

If the levee in Prairie du Rocher loses Federal Emergency Management Agency recognition, the National Flood Insurance Program could decide to treat the village as a high-risk area. That change would bump up insurance premiums for about 30% of the around-250 homes in the village, village president Ray Cole said.

"I think the average (premium) is like $400 a year right now," Cole told the Southern Illinoisan . "That could jump by double digits each year, and it doesn't take long for rates to start doubling."

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study found that the levee would need tens of millions of dollars in upgrades to fix under-seepage issues and meet FEMA regulations.

Homes and businesses that don't currently pay for flood insurance will be required to purchase it if they hold any loan, including a mortgage, from a federally backed lender.

FEMA is expected to finalize the maps by late 2019, agency spokesman Mark Peterson said.

New development in the flood plain will be heavily restricted, and even those who own their homes outright will be hurt further down the line, Cole said.

"Imagine trying to sell your property with a flood insurance payment that's as much as the house payment," Cole said. "Imagine the impact on your property value."

Peterson said FEMA has been engaged with the community since 2007. The agency held meetings and conference calls to discuss the accreditation effort and the town's options should it fail.

In a town where the population and property values have been stagnant for decades, Cole sees de-accreditation as an economic stranglehold.

"It's the slow death of a town," he said.

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