By Jason McLure
COLUMBIA Mo. (Reuters) - A small Missouri town repeatedly threatened by a rising Mississippi River is choosing to let residents fend for themselves this year rather than face potential bankruptcy to pay for another municipally organized fight against flooding.
Last year, Clarksville went into debt to fund $400,000 of emergency flood protections, a figure equivalent to the town's annual budget, building a wall of gravel and sandbags to protect antique shops, a lumber yard and a post office downtown.
The town government finished repaying the debt on Monday only to learn the Mississippi River is expected to reach 9 feet (2.7 meters) above flood stage at Clarksville in the next seven days, threatening the town's riverfront again.
At a meeting on Monday night, the council for the town of 438 people about 65 miles (105 km) north of St. Louis decided it could not pay to fend off the water this year.
"We're sad, we're hurt, we're disappointed," Mayor Jo Ann Smiley said. "This is everybody on his own and it's a very different mood. It's not nice. ... But I understand that I can't encourage the board to spend money that bankrupts the city."
Residents who live on higher ground have objected to the cost of the flood measures, Smiley said.
Property owners in the path of the expected flooding have started to build their own defenses. One home owner bought sandbags in Iowa and another used a bulldozer to surround his house with an earthen berm, Smiley said.
The lumber yard, the post office and tenants of a small commercial strip that includes a potter and a jeweler were using concrete highway barricades for flood protection.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp railroad donated 100 tons of sand to Clarksville, which is also using 20,000 sandbags left over from last year's fight. In past years, the town used 1 million sandbags, Smiley said.
Clarksville has chosen not to add a permanent flood wall in order to preserve river views prized by the tourists that support many of its businesses. It hopes to raise $3.5 million for a removable flood wall system in the future.
(Reporting by Jason McLure; Editing by David Bailey and Peter Cooney)