July 17, 2020

Duckworth, Centreville residents say local officials must take action to fix flooding

Source: Belleville News-Democrat


If sewage and flooding problems in Centreville are going to be fixed, local officials must lead the way.

That was the consensus of residents and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth on Thursday during a meeting with the Illinois Democrat at the Church of Grace in northern Centreville.

“I can help with grants but it has to go through the municipality. I can write letters in support of the grants, I can make the case for the grants, but it still has to go through the municipality and the county,” Duckworth said.

The ditches around the church were still filled with floodwater from the day before and the smell of raw sewage lingered outside as Duckworth spoke with residents about the ongoing flood problems in their community.

“If we put pressure in a lot of places, it will get them to move,” said Walter Byrd, a resident who has dealt with floodwater and raw sewage destroying his property for nearly two decades.

The meeting was part of Duckworth’s trip to the metro-east to discuss several issues in the area, but for these Centreville residents, no issue is more important than flooding. They say for decades failed infrastructure and inaction from local officials have left their homes constantly inundated with floodwater and raw sewage and cost them their health and their property value.

Duckworth heard those accounts firsthand Thursday from residents like Early Fuse, who is suing the city of Centreville, Mayor Marius “Mark” Jackson, Centreville Township, Township Supervisor Curtis McCall Sr., Commonfields of Cahokia and its superintendent, Dennis Traiteur, to try to get the problems addressed.

Fuse, who is on a fixed income, described the struggle he’s had to replace his basement wall more than seven times due to the floodwater while new rainwater pumps have been installed on the other side of town.

Other residents shared their stories with Duckworth as the senator brainstormed ways her office could help. She suggested a federal study of the area, applications and her support for Community Development Block Grant funding, and pressure on local, state and federal government to fix the issues.

At the heart of the problem, residents and Duckworth agreed, is city leadership.

Nicole Nelson and Kalilah Jackson, two attorneys who are trying to help find solutions to the issues and recently filed the lawsuit, say residents can’t count on the city to help them, and grant funding has been hard to nail down due to the city’s inaction.

“We can’t even put them down as an applicant [for grants] or somebody we can work with because they won’t talk to the residents or us,” Nelson said. “There’s no communication there.”

Duckworth said while she can put pressure on the city, the Environmental Protection Agency, St. Clair County, the Army Corps of Engineers and other involved institutions, the city still needs to take action. She said without support from the county and city, the problems could go unresolved.

Nelson said in the past grant money has been used in other parts of town, near where local officials live.

Over the past 27 years, St. Clair County has provided just short of $1.6 million in grants to 10 Centreville city and township projects. That’s the second-largest sum granted a St. Clair County city over that period.

According to figures provided by the county, roughly $380,000 in block grant money to Centreville was used on sewer-related projects. None of it went to the parts of the city affected by the severe flooding problems. The remaining $451,000 was used for street improvements, also in the southern part of the city.

“Even when the grant money comes in and when they do put pump stations in, it doesn’t go to the side of town that needs it. There needs to be oversight,” Nelson said. “We’re really afraid this grant money can go to waste.”

Duckworth said the issues in Centreville are part of a broader issue where Black communities are left to deal with a lack of environmental protections and institutional racism.

“The people of Centreville and the environmental justice issues their community faces deserve to be addressed, and I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss how the federal government can help bring the much needed-resources,” Duckworth said. “No matter the zip code, the color of their skin, or how much money they make, no one deserves to live with public health concerns in their backyard.”

Duckworth met privately with several elected officials later in the day.

Duckworth’s office did not disclose why the meeting was private. Duckworth wasn’t immediately available for comment on why the meeting was private.

Centreville Township Supervisor Curtis McCall Sr. said the private meeting was a “step in the right direction.” He said it was focused on finding ways to get more funding from the federal government to help deal with flooding issues.

“We commend the senator for coming out and listening to us, and it went well in terms of making plans getting some investment on a federal level to help us with the sewage issues,” McCall said. “We’re a poor municipality, so we need more funding from the federal government.”

McCall said the issue is more complex than asking the city to fix it, calling the lawsuit filed by Fuse and fellow resident Cornelius Bennett “misinformed.”

“It’s not an easy fix,” McCall said about current sewage issues. “We’re dealing with bad infrastructure, and it’s been going on for years”

Bennett and Fuse are asking the court to stop the defendants from depositing or diverting stormwater onto their properties and to replace some of the village’s pump or lift stations within 30 days. The suit also asks for the installation of new sewer lines where needed as well as a monitor to make sure the changes are being made.

A response from the defendants was due earlier this month, but the defendants were given a 15 day extension on July 10.

By:  Kavahn Mansouri, Deasia Paige