Monett, Mo. soon will start flood-plain demolition of downtown buildings
Founded in 1887 the town of Monett, like many communities, was built along the railroad tracks.
But right next to those tracks just happens to be Kelly Creek, a waterway that's played just as big a part in the town's history as the railroad industry.
The Kelly Creek channel runs parallel to downtown's main street, Broadway, and is a block to the south of the business district between the stores and the railroad tracks.
The creek is surrounded by masonry walls but during heavy rains it overflows its banks and over the years has made its way into those businesses, mainly between Third and Sixth streets, causing millions of dollars in damage.
In 2016 for instance the creek rose three feet in just 45 minutes, leaving six feet of water along Broadway.
It's been a problem for as long as folks here can remember.
"When we do have a flood it's a typical flash flood," explained Monett city administrator Dennis Pyle. "It comes very quickly and recedes very quickly."
"It's not a very pleasant experience," adds Bernice Morris, the owner of Fashion Crossroads in downtown Monett for 50 years. For half a century she's seen a lot of floods come and go and get as high as eight inches along her walls.
She wouldn't mind seeing something done about it.
"If you didn't have to worry about sandbagging or receiving a call at night that the water's rising that would be a wonderful thing," she said.
Well now there's hope for at least a partial solution.
After 10 years and four attempts at getting federal funds, Monett will start taking bids on December 17th to demolish four structures in the flood-plain area and turn it into green space. The areas include the city's own public works building, an old VFW and hotel building, an agri-center, and perhaps most importantly, a trailer park.
"What we look at first is trying to save people's lives," said Bonnie Witt-Schulte, the director of the Monett-Lawrence County Emergency Management Office. "Those trailers will no longer be there and we won't have that risk."
There have been fatalities over the years, and while the half-million dollar green space, located next to an already existing pavilion and park, won't solve all the flooding problems there is a consensus that it will help.
"We're still going to see that flooding but we'll see less of an impact to people's lives and property," Witt-Schulte said.
"Without those buildings being there we believe the flooding will not be as severe as it has been in the past," Pyle added.
The city did consider other options such as re-routing Kelly Creek.
"That was very expensive. Well over six million dollars," Pyle said.
Mother nature has already started part of the demolition work as the old Frisco hotel and VFW building has been falling apart due to storm damage. The latest collapse came last week and fencing has been put up around the structure to keep people and cars out of danger.
Monett is known as a resilient town as residents here have endured tornadoes and floods in the past only to rebuild and press on.
But when asked what natural disaster tends to have the biggest emotional toll on the town Witt-Schulte didn't hesitate with her answer.
"Floods tend to have more of a negative effect on people especially when it's repetitive in nature," she said. "And that's what it is for us."
The project is 75 percent funded by FEMA with the city responsible for raising the other 25 percent.
Officials say they hope to have the green space completed by August 2020.