After the Deluge

Since the Flood of 93, Chesterfield boosters have used millions in public money to raise a levee and turn the bottomlands into a boomtown. But betting against the river is risky business.


It may have been the burrowing of moles that caused the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee to collapse in 1993, or the roots of a large tree growing near its base. Nobody really knows for sure. Some engineers speculate that sandy soil contributed to the structure's downfall, allowing seepage to penetrate and soften its landward side. Whatever the cause, pressure had been building for more than a month. As the river rose beyond flood stage, its velocity increased as well, sweeping through the bend in the Centaur Chute past Howell Island, where it rejoined the main channel.

Unlike hurricanes or tornadoes, floods are slow-moving natural disasters, and they occur irregularly. This gives emergency managers the advantage of being able to plan how to prevent losses. Prudence would dictate that floodplains remain undeveloped, but economic forces don't necessarily adhere to reason.

"We need to use the free-market system down there rather than government subsidies," says former Chesterfield Councilman Allan Sheppard.
Jennifer Silverberg
"We need to use the free-market system down there rather than government subsidies," says former Chesterfield Councilman Allan Sheppard.

Neither does the river. Dennis Stephens, a hydraulic engineer for the Corps, compares the situation to a game of chance. He is the engineer who interpreted the data that led to lowering of the anticipated flood-stage increases that will result from the raising of the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee. Stephens expresses confidence in his projections, but the chance that the river will shoulder its way once more into Chesterfield Valley is something that still disturbs him.

"The probability is that it could occur," he says. "It's like winning the lottery. Somebody wins the lottery sooner or later, right?"

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