"High and Dry: The Soldiers Grove Story"
In my first post, I promised to offer some new rules for climate action. But that promise was swept away this past week by the Great Floods of 2007.
Apocalyptic storms have been slamming Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin, dislodging homes from foundations and flooding entire communities. Along the Kickapoo River in southwestern Wisconsin, where I published a weekly newspaper 30 years ago, all the villages are under water. Except for one community called Soldiers Grove.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (more recently known for its flawless protection of New Orleans) proposed building a $3.5 million levee around Soldiers Grove. I cranked up my printing press and wrote a counterproposal: We’d take the money and move the town to higher ground. Rather than re-engineering the river, we’d relocate the people, never to be flooded or to require federal disaster relief again.
The Corps didn’t buy it, but we found other state and federal agencies willing to help, kicked in our own money and moved the town between 1979 and 1983. Fresh from the second Arab Oil embargo of the 1970s, we decided to make Soldiers Grove the nation’s “first solar village.” With unanimous support, the Village Board passed the nation’s only ordinance requiring that all new buildings receive at least half their heat from sunlight.
The first big test came last week with record flooding in the Kickapoo River Valley. I scanned the web in vain for news about Soldiers Grove and finally got a call from the Associated Press: Alone among the villages on the Kickapoo, Soldiers Grove was untouched.
As the story points out, relocation is extraordinarily difficult for a community, and neither the Corps nor FEMA yet has invented a program to help. But my prediction is that we’ll see a lot more extreme weather and flooding in the United States in the years ahead, and it would be good government policy to help move people – and in some cases, entire neighborhoods and communities – out of the path of rivers.
As an important fringe benefit, relocation is an excellent opportunity to build smart and green. Soldiers Grove proved it can be done. You can read more about the story at their website.
– Bill B.