The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Treasure In The Heartland

by db Conard, The Quill

Broken Promises - Uncompensated Efforts

Friday morning I had the privilege to meet with Henderson County Drainage District Commissioners Mark Ford and Gail Russell and County Board and County Board Chair Marty Lafary.

The reason we had gotten together was to talk about the Great Flood of 2008 and the potential for a repeat or worse.

We talked for better than an hour touching on what these disaster veterans thought to be important, what had been good and bad up till now, and what did they look forward to in the case of potential future disasters.

There are lots of numbers in a disaster that make up a fog of confusion. Everything is in the millions, with numbers ranging up to 30 plus million for just pumping water.

Everyone involved shakes their heads at the bureaucracy, and wonders at the failure of government to act quickly. What's so hard about serving in an organized professional manner that follows clear rules and guidelines that are responsive to both common sense and community needs.

When you look at all the players at all levels of the recovery from a disaster, almost every where you look you find quality people with good intentions. It is nonsense that seems to have everyone's hands tied and it isn't getting any better.

In the beginning of the Flood of 2008 a government official asked what he could do, then failed to respond to the most basic needs of plastic, shovels, and sandbags. Neighbors used their own credit cards buying the seventeen miles of plastic that was critical to saving the levee.

A day late and a dollar short, might be the best way to describe most of the government agencies that should have been there to help as the water both rose and fell.

How can any organization expect to provide service when they are unable to even provide consistency in their personnel with as many as ten changes in key positions.

It is now, how long, since the day the waters breached the levy in June of '08, and here we are, two years later, still begging for the basics.

A minimum of 500 thousand dollars is desperately needed to complete the levy to a minimum standard of safety, and a million would be wiser still, versus the cost of a levee failure to the communities of both sides of the river.

As of this Tuesday, the County Commissioners voted to close all flood potential roads when river levels reach 21 feet. They feel they have no choice without a secure levee. Not to do so might risk lives, so instead it will cause an inconvenience in crossing the river, but it is necessary with an unreliable levee.

I could not help but get a sense of people just tired of all the nonsense of working with government agencies that have administrators who fail even to visit the communities so in need of their services.

Key personnel being changed multiple times result in programs that are incapable of providing either continuity or reliability, each of which have to be the foundation of emergency services.

Can you imagine a law that requires the use of outdated equipment, even though less expensive, modern, common sense alternatives are immediately available. Can you imagine agencies that do not return phone calls to our local elected officials? Can you imagine how frustrating it must be filling out the third appeal to find out that you filled out the form correctly the first time! Can you imagine attending literally hundreds of meetings that in the end were filled with broken promises or more wasted efforts.

After the flood there were quite a few $100 dollar an hour consultants living at the Burlington, Iowa Pzazz at our expense. Did we get anything for our money? When our people followed the advice of the agencies there to help us, did it save any money? Get anything done?

The first lesson of the flood of '08 is not to count on anyone other than ourselves.

If we need 32 in pumps, then we can find them for ourselves. If we need plastic we know we can't count on help.

We are desperate for dollars we just don't have. Yet, we can't afford not to find solutions to these threats that could ultimately cost many times more than the price of prevention.

There are only a very few people in the community that might want to, or who are even capable of bothering with all the rigmarole necessary to watch over a water district. We are going to burn these people out, and find it ever harder to replace them.

Out of state land owners aren't going to be any help, and right now, there are only two local sons who might be counted on in the future.

It comes down to lawmakers who have created a system that has become too cumbersome and unresponsive to the needs of the citizens that it was designed to support.

We have government program managers who again and again give lip service and nothing more. Their actions are compounding the waste and expense which is better likened to what might be expected from third world countries, and unacceptable in a progressive democracy such as America.

The treasure that I once again find in the Heartland are the people who give so much of their time, effort, and money in service to their community and neighbors.

We have a Governor who can give millions to a city zoo, yet ignore a levee protecting the citizens of his state. What's wrong with this picture, and can we not change it to one where the true treasure shouldn't be that hard to recognize?

Perhaps, one of the greatest unseen expenses is the cost to us for services of these unappreciated volunteers who are working their hardest to take care of our water districts.

Literally hundreds of uncompensated hours that are seldom recognized by those who they have helped serve yet are so readily abused by systems that just don't work the way they might.

Everyone came to see the flooding, offer support, but where are they now?