Farmers, senator debate use of Birds Point Levee

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

MISSISSIPPI COUNTY, MO. - Thursday marks two years since the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers intentionally breached the Birds Point Levee in Mississippi County, Missouri to relieve pressure on the flood wall surrounding Cairo, Illinois.

The levee has only been blown up twice in its history:  in 1937 and 2011.

That most recent breach flooded more than 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland, some of the most fertile in the state.

The Army Corps blew the levee in three different spots. Work to repair it has been ongoing since that time.

Most of the repair work is complete, but questions still remain about the decision by the Army Corps.

Farmers insist the floodway did not work as it was supposed to, and portions of the levee should never be breached again.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt got an earful Wednesday from farmers during a tour of the three explosion sites on the Birds Point Levee.

Glenn Ault, Junior is one of the farmers speaking his mind.

"We've seen it happen. It does not work, and it will never work," said Ault.

Ault said the second blast didn't do what it was supposed to. The Army Corps acknowledges the explosives didn't fully open the levee at that spot and created a smaller gap instead.

"The center crevasse did not operate properly in the 2011 flood," said Jim Bodron, Deputy for Projects and Project Management with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District.

Bodron said the agency is compiling a list of lessons learned from the flood, and that includes coming up with other ways to use the floodway rather than blasting. But he wouldn’t get into specifics.

"We're developing tools that we can look and analyze conditions," he said.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt said the converstaion about future use of the floodway is crucial.

"It's an important discussion to have. I'm very sympathetic to the farm families dependent on using the 137,000 acres in the floodway," he said.

He believes the ones who tend this land daily should have more of a say in the operation plan down the line.

"(I'm) asking the corps to seek the input they need from people who understand the floodway better than they do," said Blunt.

The Army Corps revises their operation plan after a major flood. Revisions should be complete this summer.

The Mississippi River Commission must approve that operation plan.

You might remember the commission was in Cape Girardeau for a public meeting back on April 8th. At that time, they said they are prepared to activate the floodway again in the event of a catastrophic flood.

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