Legislator hears concerns about levees
State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, D-Harrisburg, visited Shawnee High School at Wolf Lake on Tuesday, March 20, for a student-led presentation about river levee conditions and other serious flooding issues in the region.
The event was organized by students of Shawnee teacher Jamie Nash-Mayberry’s history and economics classes as a way to inform Phelps Finnie about the past and potential future flood problems in the legislative district she serves.
She represents the 118th District in the Illinois General Assembly. Part of Union County is in the district.
A “save the levee, save the future” campaign started in 2010, when Nash-Mayberry’s students began writing letters to politicians at the local, state and federal level, as well as celebrities and other prominent members of the media.
Over the years a number of lawmakers have visited Nash-Mayberry’s class, including state senators, a U.S. representative and a lieutenant governor.
Failing levees and collapsed drainage pipes have contributed to a number of disastrous flooding events in the region since 2010. These events can cause irreparable damage to land and property.
And for students, flooding can also result in evacuation of their homes, school closure and the postponement or cancellation of important extracurricular activities and events like prom.
The Shawnee District is located in the flood plains of the Mississippi and Big Muddy rivers.
Nash-Mayberry and a number of her students led Phelps Finnie through a PowerPoint presentation which illustrated the history of the area’s levee system. The students also shared personal stories of how flooding has affected them.
“Thinking back to the New Year flood, December 2015 and January 2016, how many of you had to pack up your belongings in case the levees failed...show of hands,” Nash-Mayberry asked, addressing the room full of her students. Most of those in attendance raised their hands.
Students have held numerous fund-raisers and have worked to help secure grant money in an effort to improve the situation.
However, long-term solutions will likely require federal funding to repair or replace the levee system before the next flood event.
The presentation ended with a plea for the representative to become another voice for their cause.
Phelps Finnie said she recognized the complicated nature of the situation, but also pledged her support of the students’ cause.
“There are major problems everywhere I go, it is overwhelming. But you all are just as important as anybody else who is having problems,” says Phelps Finnie, “so I will be the best voice I can for you.”
Following the presentation, Phelps Finnie was taken on a tour of the area’s levee system by local levee district commissioners.