Monroe County talks state disaster snub

Two weeks after the Columbia area suffered significant widespread storm damage, the Monroe County Board passed a disaster declaration for the impacted region.

Monroe County Public Safety Director Kevin Scheibe presented the declaration during Monday’s county board meeting, which was effective through July 17.

He explained that storm-related relief from the state requires a declaration from the governing county, although Gov. JB Pritzker did not include Monroe County in a July 11 disaster proclamation.

Scheibe said there was “no consistency” as to  which counties got relief, and he hopes Pritzker will amend the declaration to make Monroe County and Columbia residents eligible for recovery funds and allow businesses to apply for loss of service reimbursement.

Scheibe also said he has received a response of “no comment” from those he has spoken with at the governor’s offices as to why Monroe County was excluded.

“This is out of my hands,” Scheibe continued, noting he has returned dozens of calls from citizens asking why the effects of the storm are not considered a disaster.

Scheibe then suggested – and Monroe County Board Chairman Dennis Knobloch concurred – that concerned residents contact their state elected officials to encourage them to lobby for a disaster declaration.

Scheibe said his contacts with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency are “on his side” regarding the need for a declaration for Monroe County. 

Scheibe noted St. Clair County did not apply for a disaster declaration despite the Freeburg and Smithton areas suffering storm damage.

As far as the county’s role in the clean-up efforts is concerned, Schiebe said a majority of the work is done.

He said as of July 13, the county had spent $188,000 just with helping in Columbia and the work by the Monroe County Highway Department. He added over $300,000 has been spent so far for “public assistance” related to storm recovery efforts.

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger later added that 56 county residents requested debris pickup, which two highway department crews accomplished over the course of three days.

Scheibe also described details of the official storm report per the National Weather Service.

The June 30 event was classified as a severe thunderstorm – a general description which can include powerful, damaging straight-line winds – and not a derecho. 

He also said the official top wind speed during the storm was 97 miles per hour.

“It was not so much the wind speed, but the duration,” Scheibe explained, noting the high winds lasted over 11 minutes.

He said the City of Columbia has been able to use two “burn curtains” and three chopper/shredder machines for cleaning up storm debris. 

A burn curtain allows for burning of waste without spreading ash or embers.

“Columbia has their hands full,” Scheibe concluded.

Power was out for the better part of three days for many Columbia residents as a result of the storm.

The City of Columbia issued its own disaster declaration Monday night. For more on that, click here.

Due to recent rainfall in the area, Scheibe announced the burn ban in Monroe County had been lifted as of Monday. 

He said the county had received enough rainfall in the past week to lift the ban, but he also encouraged residents to still exercise caution while burning.

At the beginning of the meeting, the board approved a lease agreement with the Administrative Office of the Illinois Courts for use of courthouse space to house the county pre-trial services officer. 

The matter had been brought before the board last month, but was tabled as commissioners did not like the proposed five-year lease term.

Monroe County State’s Attorney Ryan Webb said the state agreed to a lease agreement for two years, retroactive to Feb. 1. He added the price per square foot is above the average cost for leased space in the courthouse.

The board also approved  a resolution which authorizes a permanent easement for storm water retention at 234 E. Third Street in  Waterloo.

The easement was requested to accommodate a parking lot to be built adjacent to the property in conjunction with the upcoming expansion of the Monroe County Jail. 

In other business, a delegation from the Monroe County Farm Bureau was on hand with a request for the commissioners to pass a resolution in support of agriculture, which it approved unanimously.

Monroe County Farm Bureau President Bruce Brinkman addressed the board, pointing out that agriculture accounts for 1,657 jobs in Monroe County – 12 percent of total jobs – on 12 percent of the taxable land in the county with an approximate output of $330 million annually.

He added local farmers are producing more product while reducing their carbon footprint.

Brinkman said the resolution would be a public show of support of the value of agriculture and the rural community in Monroe County.

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web