Citizen’s Letter Spotlights City’s Action on Flood Mitigation

hitch lot flooded
Flood waters in the Hitch Lot in June of 2021 (photo S Jason Cole).

An anonymous letter recently sent to Excelsior Springs’s mayor and city council brought the recurrent flooding plaguing the downtown area to the forefront. The letter, penned by an unnamed resident, urged immediate action to safeguard the community’s well-being and infrastructure.

Ironically, this plea for action comes as the city has diligently worked for over two years to eliminate downtown flooding, one of the most significant environmental threats to the community. Despite the concerns raised in the anonymous letter, city leaders have made a significant, yet seemingly unnoticed, effort to mitigate this enduring problem.

The City of Excelsior Springs has been actively collaborating with the specialized consulting groups Vireo and George Butler Associates, dedicating considerable resources and securing millions of dollars in state and federal funding to develop a comprehensive solution to the flood problem.

This situation of the anonymous letter, paired with the high level of work being done, highlights a disconnect between the city’s efforts and public awareness. Numerous articles and a live broadcast of the public listening post regarding the topic have been published by the Excelsior Citizen, and other outlets, including the Excelsior Springs Standard, have announced the work being done. City officials have conducted surveys and even had a booth at the 2022 Waterfest where citizens could give direct feedback and input on the project to the consultants working on the project.

For decades, downtown Excelsior Springs has been impacted by the consistent flooding of Fishing River’s Dry Fork and East Fork, which meet in a confluence directly in the core of the downtown business district. Major floods in 2015 and again in 2021 spurred city officials to take action. The most recent flood in 2021 caused the cancellation of Waterfest and is also attributed to the demise of a portion of the historic Royal Hotel, which had to be demolished to save the remaining structure.

The hand-written letter, penned on January 6th, suggests the city should find farm equipment or rent machinery from area home improvement stores and allow volunteers to do the work. “Volunteers could dig by hand. Maybe a farmer would have some equipment that would work? I don’t know what a grave digger uses, but that might work also?” they suggest. 

Read the full letter below:

To: Mayor or City Council

RE: FLOODING

DATE: Jan, 6, 2024

There is an old saying: "Where there is the "will"... there is a way," Having a need and/or a vision plus determination can change things. Doing nothing certainly will not.

The last flood, we were driving down a road beside the small river that floods here: It looked very high, and the water was flowing very fast. Didn't overflow either - which is so important to point out.

Later on, I noticed the river isn't as deep (or as wide?) in the area that always floods. As you know, this is by the Elms, Police Station, Oaks Apts, etc.

If a farmer dug a trench that was both deep and shallow and wide and narrow - there could be a problem. Picture a heavy rain (or a hose going full blast) on this trench. What do you think would happen? I’m assuming the shallow part would overflow! If the shallow areas are made wider and deeper in the river, those areas may not flood anymore? very possible.

Volunteers could dig by hand. Maybe a farmer would have some equipment that would work? I don't know what a grave digger uses, but that night work also? Could be something else?

Sometimes equipment can be rented. A volunteer could drive/use it. The community can do fund raisers. A "Go Fund Me" could be done too. Perhaps some wealthy people would make donations? There might even be a Government grant for this?

It could take awhile, maybe a few years, to accomplish this. But eventually it would be done! Well worth the effort! I hope you appoint a committee to do something about the serious flooding problem here. We need a "vision!"

Anonymous

P.S. Again, Where there is the “will”- there's a way!

While undoubtedly well-intentioned, the author’s oversimplified solution proposes a rudimentary approach to a significant engineering challenge. The idea that volunteers could manually dig to alter the river’s course or that equipment operated by volunteers for digging graves might be suitable for the work exposes a lack of understanding of the technicality involved in flood prevention on this scale. 

With the help of the consultants and input from the community, a comprehensive flood mitigation plan has been put into effect, with multiple projects already in progress or completed. 

In February, Excelsior Springs received a grant of $3,891,114 from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR), funded by ARPA, for the reconstruction of the N. Main Bridge, terracing along the Dry Fork River, and for rehabilitation of the “old laundry parking lot” between North Main and Marietta Streets. Work on this project is slated to begin later this year after engineers completed plans in the winter of 2023.

In the summer of 2023, dredging and dam work on Powell Lake in Century Park was completed, allowing the reservoir to hold hundreds of thousands of additional gallons of water. And while it may not seem obvious, this improvement will impact runoff and flooding through the city, along Kevin Street to Crescent Lake.

Funding for more improvements near the intersection of Thompson and South Streets, the area affectionately referred to as “the Hitch Lot,” was approved earlier this month. This project involves expanding greenways and adding educational elements to the downtown area for the community.

Although it’s unclear why the author of the anonymous letter was unaware of the efforts already underway, the current mayor, Mark Spohn, took the time to respond to the concerned citizen. In his letter, Mayor Spohn stated:

Dear Anonymous,

I’m writing to express my gratitude for your recent correspondence addressed to the City Council and myself. Your insightful observations and concerns about the recurring flooding in Excelsior Springs have not gone unnoticed.

Your ability to identify and articulate the challenges we face, particularly the frequent floods over the past decades, is commendable. In the whirlwind of our daily responsibilities, it’s easy to overlook such issues, but your letter serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of vigilance and proactive measures.

I am particularly heartened by your positive and proactive approach, emphasizing that action is both necessary and achievable. It’s this kind of attitude that drives meaningful change in our community.

I’m pleased to share that the city has been actively working on a flood mitigation solution for some time now. We’re close to initiating a significant project designed to address this issue. While this initial phase won’t entirely eliminate the flood threat, it aims to significantly reduce the impact, particularly where the Dry Fork of the Fishing River converges with the East Fork in our downtown area.

Our efforts have included extensive collaboration with a consulting firm to identify the most effective strategies for managing catastrophic flooding. In the coming months, we plan to implement the river channel deepening and widening strategy you mentioned, among other methods, to mitigate the water flow from the north. This project is funded through grants and matched by our Capital Improvements budget, reflecting our commitment to this crucial issue.

This undertaking represents a substantial amount of planning and dedication, and we are optimistic about its positive impact on the entire community, especially our downtown businesses and residents. Thank you again for not only bringing your concerns to our attention but also for your willingness to engage constructively in the betterment of our city.

Sincerely,
Mayor Mark Spohn
City of Excelsior Springs, MO

Mayor Mark Spohn’s thoughtful and kind reply is commendable. His response underscores the city’s dedication to addressing the immediate issue and ensuring long-term resilience and safety. While the anonymous letter highlights a gap in public awareness, the city’s efforts, including consultations, public listening sessions, and community feedback opportunities, demonstrate a commitment to inclusive and informed action. The city has sought solutions and actively engaged the community in these endeavors.

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