Proposed levee in Missouri's boot heel could cost $165 million

9:54 PM, Aug 26, 2013   |    comments
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KSDK - There is something happening in Missouri's boot heel that could ultimately cost every one of us $165 million.

Some in the federal government want to spend tens of millions of your tax dollars to prevent flooding, in a designated floodway.

While opponents say it is a colossal waste of money, supporters say building a new 1500 foot levee is vital to the economic survival of the region.

Two years ago, the Army Corp of Engineers blew a two mile hole in the Birds Point levee.

It quickly turned 130,000 acres of farmland into a lake but it also saved the town of Cairo, Illinois from disastrous flooding.

Riley James is a fourth generation farmer in New Madrid, about three hours south of St. Louis. 

"We grew up here. We make our living here. This levee was supposed to be built 60 years ago, several generations ago, and it was never completed," James said.

James and other farmers saw millions in losses when the government blew the Birds Point Levee. They want to see a 1,500 foot levee built that would close the gap between the Mississippi and protect their land.

Environmentalists like Bruce Morrison with the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center say it's a bad idea.

"What you see here is an agricultural field. The levee should not be constructed to protect agricultural property that's part of a designated floodway," Morrison said. 

He says , spending $165 million to protect a couple hundred landowners who farm in a floodway makes absolutely no economic sense.

Tyrone Coleman is the Mayor of Cairo, Illinois.  

His fear is that the levee would increase his city's chances of flooding and put added pressure on existing levees.

"It has an effect St. Louis all the way to the gulf. It affects neighboring communities," Coleman said. 

Farmers like James argue if the levee is built he can diversify his crops. Instead of just growing soybean or cotton, he could grow corn, tomatoes, melons and other protects that could bring in a lot of economic development.

James says if the federal government can build levees to protect Chesterfield and the City of St. Louis, why not the boot heel?

US Fish and Wildlife is against the project, saying it would cause "substantial....losses of nationally significant fish and wildlife."

IN 2011 an EPA manager wrote the project "could potentially have the largest negative impact on wetlands and streams of any project ever proposed in Region 7."

The Army Corp of Engineers appears to back the project and it has strong support from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri). 

Supporters contend the newest levee proposal addresses environmental issues and that the benefits of building the levee more than justify its cost.

Two public hearings are set for this week. The first is Tuesday August 27th in East Prarie, Mo. The second is Wednesday, August 28th in Cairo, IL.


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