A small but politically influential group of landowners (one a New Madrid businessman who has been a member of the highly influential Mississippi River Commission for over 30 years) is insisting the Army Corps of Engineers close off the last remaining natural floodplain on the Mississippi River in Missouri. This proposed levee would benefit the group’s personal agricultural and economic interests despite a questionable cost/benefit ratio.
These landowners, who control a significant portion of the land in the area’s floodplain, want Washington to spend federal tax dollars to stimulate economic activity in a zone already designated as a “floodway” during high-water events. It should come as no surprise the proponents are putting up none of their own cash in a brazen effort to increase their own land values. With backing from congressional representatives, they are demanding $165 million to prevent “too much flooding” in a designated floodway.
These landowners have conveniently forgotten Washington purchased easements for the New Madrid Floodway as compensation for flooding. These easements came with the understanding that the government has the right to flood this area when necessary, such as in 2011 to save Cairo, Ill.
As recently as 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers, along with these same local supporters, attempted to construct the levee project, totally disregarding significant negative economic and environmental impacts. U.S. District Judge James Robertson found the corps had deliberately provided inaccurate environmental impact numbers in a “malicious and capricious” manner to justify the levee. He demanded the corps dismantle the entire project. Astonishingly, this project is back on the table.
The New Madrid Levee is like a bad rash that keeps coming back. The Army Corps of Engineers has recently released its latest draft environmental impact statement in an effort to re-start this foolish project, only this time with the benefit of Sen. Roy Blunt’s political influence. Blunt has gone so far as to demand federal environmental agencies “make the numbers work” to support this levee.
Once again political pressure is attempting to trump common sense. Sooner or later the Army Corps of Engineers must realize when they build a levee to protect one area they are concurrently pushing that water somewhere else with greater force. When will the corps finally realize the cumulative impact of building levees? When will they agree with modern hydrologist and cease using their obsolete card table models?
The New Madrid Levee is not only a waste of taxpayer money; it’s a foolish idea. For once, let common sense trump political influence.
Adolphus A. Busch IV has been a staunch advocate of environmental issues. He is active with many wildlife and conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, Great Rivers Habitat Alliance (founder and past chairman), The Wild Turkey Federation and Delta Waterfowl.