Prairie du Rocher plans future

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Pictured is a preliminary FEMA Flood Insurance Rate Map for the Prairie du Rocher area. The zone in blue will become a “special flood hazard area” due to levee deaccreditation later this summer when the maps are expected to be finalized.

The future of Prairie du Rocher is uncertain, but citizens and local leaders are working to make sure one of the oldest communities begun by French colonists in the United States will not be lost to history.

The status of local levee accreditation has caused concern for many citizens and businesses in the nearly 300-year-old village. FEMA, the organization that determines flood risk zones, is expected to remove accreditation sometime this August for levees in and near the village, a move that would lead to increased flood insurance rates as well as new construction and other flood-related restrictions.

A public meeting was held Jan. 23 in the village to hear a plan from members of the Prairie du Rocher Steering Committee regarding its future. 

One of the five presenters during the evening was Randolph County Economic Development Director Chris Marten.

“The first thing we need is a plan,”  Marten said after the meeting when asked for comment. 

Marten said that the plan for Prairie du Rocher’s future began two years ago,  but was delayed due to the enduring flood concerns of this past summer.

During the meeting, Martin said the committee was exploring multiple options to gain funding and retain levee accreditation, including working with river boats and trying to obtain national park status. 

The main speaker of the evening was Prairie du Rocher Chamber of Commerce President Amy Barbeau. She began her presentation by addressing concerns about the levee.

She stated that the levee system is outdated, but the village will strive to maintain the levee’s upkeep by finding sustainable sources of funding, according to an article from the North County News

“Prairie du Rocher needs to change its focus to survive,” Barbeau said, adding that “these are issues all river towns are facing, not just Prairie du Rocher.”

With that as her focus, Barbeau outlined a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats analysis of the village.

Highlights of the strengths included the historical significance of  Prairie du Rocher,  large Chamber of Commerce participation and tourism opportunities. She noted that the annual Rendezvous at Fort de Chartres and other fort events draw 50,000 visitors per year.

In the threats section, Barbeau warned that loss of levee accreditation and lack of investment in the area could result in the loss of historical landmarks and eventually the possible demise of the community.

She then outlined strategic initiatives for Prairie du Rocher moving forward. 

Regarding the levee and infrastructure, Barbeau discussed a goal of replacing the area’s 177 relief wells within 10 years while lobbying state politicians to help revise standards on such wells. She also spoke about pursuing a “new and independent engineering study of the levee system” while lobbying federal politicians in an attempt to compel FEMA to modify their levee standards.

She also summarized plans for community and business development with a focus on small business startups and tourism.

Barbeau then proposed establishment of an historic preservation commission consisting of the Chamber of Commerce, village government, Randolph County Tourism Committee, Randolph County Historical Society and citizens to oversee “historical village development and direct marketing efforts.”

Another idea in development is to investigate the possibility of becoming part of the future national park in conjunction with Ste. Genevieve, Mo., a town with a similar historical significance located near Prairie du Rocher that was granted a Historical National Park designation in 2018.

This designation allows federal funds to be used for levee repair.

The next definite step in the plan to help the village with its predicament is the creation of a booklet that describes Prairie du Rocher and its plans for the future.

“The goal is to try to get our story out,” Prairie du Rocher Village President Ray Cole said of the booklet, adding that he anticipates meeting with political figures next month to get endorsements for a plan going forward. 

The informational book is expected to be printed and distributed this spring.

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