Mississippi River levee hole might be closed

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The seventh analysis of the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project has been completed by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, and the Corps apparently is ready to take on government agencies, environmentalist, and scientist groups who oppose closing the quarter-mile gap in the levee along the Missouri portion of the Mississippi River.

The closing of the levee gap would make farming on the New Madrid flood plain much more profitable for farmers who lose crops or are hindered in planting because of flooding every three to five years. Around 100,000 acres are currently farmed in the flood plain.  

The concern is that as much as 55,000 acres of “wetlands that provide backwater habitat for fish and waterfowl” would be destroyed by completing the Corps plan.

Area residents reportedly don’t see the extent of wetlands that the activists claim will be harmed. Lynn Bock, the attorney for the St. John Levee and Drainage District, contends the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department officials have “overestimated the extent of wetlands in the region, especially on agricultural land,” wrote Juliet Eilperin with The Washington Post in paraphrasing Bock and local farmer’s contentions.

For some reason, as one former George W. Bush official put it, “the decision nearly a century ago to turn the Mississippi River from a wild river to a managed river” has never been completely settled.

Eilperin wrote that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the EPA have officials arguing that 93 percent of the lower Mississippi flood plain has been eliminated and the Corps closing this levee gap will basically wipe out the rest.

Allowing the flooding of farmland in this area of Missouri, like occurred in 2011, supposedly has been the escape factor to keep Cairo, Ill., from flooding, and an early pre-release evaluation of the full Corps report by The Washington Post didn’t explain how Cairo flooding will be alleviated in the future. But the Corps new proposal definitely indicated East Prairie, Mo., won’t be protected from flooding.

In 2007, a U.S. District judge ruled the Corps didn’t complete appropriate environmental analysis and halted the Corps construction of a project thought to be similar to the new project being proposed. Eilperin reported the Corps spent $12 million during 4 ½ year to restore the site. At that point, there was little anticipation that the Corps would do its seventh analysis and plan on filling the wetlands gap in the river levee. 

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