Highway 34 Faces Mandatory Closure During Floods

Oquawka, IL – Henderson County Board chairman Marty Lafary says the county isn't taking any chances this year when it comes to flooding. He says if the Mississippi River reaches a certain level, the county will shut down U.S. Highway 34 in low-lying areas.

That is, of course, unless the county receives financial support and manpower to help shore up the levees from organizations such as the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Lafary says the county agreed to issue the resolution after discussions with local drainage district representatives. They felt the levee in its current state, which broke when the river reached 25 feet 7 inches in 2008, will not hold if the river reaches 21 feet. At that point, the resolution says a state of emergency will be declared and Highway 34 will be shut down.

Lafary says that will likely make some people upset, but the county simply doesn't have the money to maintain and repair the levees by itself.

"Until the county can receive money from any of these agencies, we're at a standstill," says Lafary. "At 21 [feet], we feel our levees are not capable of holding back the river."

The county sent the resolution to the state, IEMA, State Sen. John Sullivan, State Rep. Rich Myers and authorities in Des Moines County.

Lafary says IDOT can choose to ignore the resolution and keep Route 34 open, but he says that would be a foolish decision.

"It's not if [the levee's] gonna break, it's just when it's gonna break," Lafary says. "When you've got water this high already this early in the spring, usually your threat of high water is closer to the May/June area."

As of Tuesday, the gauge at Burlington read roughly 17 feet, which is two feet above flood stage. 17 feet is considered moderate flooding; 18 feet and above is considered major.

Lafary says the county board had the safety of Henderson County residents in mind when crafting the resolution. He says IDOT will be gambling with that safety should it choose to keep 34 open when the river rises past 21 feet.

Lafary says the resolution absolves the county of responsibility should tragedy strike while the road is open during a flood.