ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL — U.S. Rep. Mike Bost visited farmland Wednesday in southern Illinois where two barges are stranded, stressing the importance of fixing a nearby levee breach.
On July 3, six barges on the Mississppi River were sucked through the breach at the Len Small Levee near Miller City in Alexander County. Two days later, crews moved four of the barges back onto the river.
But two of the barges still remain on Sean Pecord's farm along Miller City Road. Wednesday morning, Bost, who represents Illinois' 12th Congressional District, visited the farm to talk with Pecord and take photos of the barges. Bost hopes the barges are evidence to leaders in Washington that something needs to be done to fix the levee.
"This can't wait any longer. Even if we have to draft emergency legislation, if that's what we have to do, maybe this will be the leverage that we need," said Bost.
The latest breach at the Len Small Levee happened in January 2016. The cost to fix the levee was estimated at $16,596,000, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided that the benefit-cost ratio was too low to justify repairing it.
Bost said he's "trying every way possible to express to the bureaucrats of D.C. how important it is to fix this."
"We tried every way possible to get the Corps on board, but all of their rules and regulations aren't lining up. We're still trying, and we're going to continue to try because we can't afford to have this," said Bost.
Last month, Bost introduced a legislation that would require the Corps of Engineers to weigh navigational benefits when determining if a levee is worth repairing.
"Every time that I had discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers, lower-level people that say we don't have a navigational problem. Really? We don't have a navigational problem?," said Bost as he gestured toward the two stranded barges on the farmland. "It's three-quarters of a mile from the main river over there. These broke free. According to the person that lives down here, four were actually pulled out. These two, they couldn't get them out. That's a navigational problem. Now, are we going to fight that every time the river comes up? No, what we need to do is we need to put a levee back."
Bost said if the breach isn't repaired, the consequences could be devastating.
"(The Mississippi) is the main route to move commerce, commodities — whether its beans, corns, wheat — not counting other products that are produced in the Chicago area are in the Great Lakes. We move it down, we take it to New Orleans. With a navigational problem like that, the expense to those people trying to the move the products is tremendous," said Bost. "The expense this nation is going to be worse if it breaks through."
The Len Small Levee also breached in 2011. Bost said he's concerned that breaches can change the river's path.
"We brought this up with the engineers. They said they're not sure. Well, I'm sure. I can see it," said Bost. "And so the reality is is that if you want this course of this river to change, do nothing. I don't think this nation can afford allowing this river to change course here."
Bost said he has spoken on the House floor several times about the levee issue, and plans to speak again using the photos of the stranded barges.
"When navigation stops along this river, you got to realize, it isn’t just southern Illinois that's affected," said Bost. "It is this nation and our commerce."
Pecord said the boat company plans to remove the two barges from his farmland by inflating balloons underneath the barges, which will allow crews to move them across the road and to the breach, where the barges will be returned to the river.
Prior to visiting the barges, Bost held a round-table discussion with local farmers, as well as the county engineer and people who deal with FEMA and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. They talked about the damage from the most recent flood and how to get federal assistance dispersed, if the money is approved. They also discussed the importance of fixing the Len Small Levee.
The flooding in Alexander County has also devastated farmland and infrastructure like Miller City Road. A section of the road is still closed due to massive damage.