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Digging concerns prompt DNR to ask for closer oversight of corps project
ARROW ROCK, Mo. -- It's not that state environmental regulators and bottomland farmers along the Missouri River don't want to help the pallid sturgeon.
But they have concerns about the effects of excavations designed to provide shallow water habitat for the endangered fish -- and those concerns have prompted the state to push for closer oversight of future projects
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Jameson Island Chute Construction Project, just east of Arrow Rock, involves digging a ditch across a river bend to create sturgeon habitat. But it also involves dumping 900,000 cubic yards of dirt into the waterway.
Farmers worry that will increase the risk of flooding, and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources shares those concerns.
"We were always concerned about what it might do to the aquatic environment as far as mussels and stuff like that, as well as just dropping that much sediment right in the river and how much time it will take for it to move," said Mike Wells, the department's deputy director.
The current permit process allows the Department of Natural Resources to raise concerns about corps projects, but not to force a change.
The state will ask the Corps of Engineers to agree to a more restrictive permit process.
"When we do that, it will require a better public review and give us a chance to scrutinize the project a little better," Wells said. "If we felt like it was going to cause some adverse impacts to water quality, then we could stop the project."
David Hibbs, an environmental resource specialist in the corps' Kansas City office, said the change likely would not result in large scale alterations to future projects.
"It may give them more latitude to implement new conditions or at least different ways of doing the projects," Hibbs said, "but we don't anticipate there will be a lot of change. The process is still going to be the same. The end result is the only thing that's going to be a little bit different in what piece of paper we put in the project file," he said.
The corps has nationwide blanket approval for construction projects considered to have minimal impact, even though many projects that discharge material into the state's waterways also require DNR approval.
That should have been the case with the Jameson Island project, Wells said.
"It's wetlands restoration. It's aquatic habitat, so it fits from that definition," Wells said. "But I don't think most of us envisioned it would be working in the middle of the Missouri River, cutting a chute that's so many miles long."
The corps has already responded to farmers' concerns by relocating the mouth of the chute and monitoring the level of the river bed.
Those changes are an improvement, farmer Mark Schuup said, but he is still concerned about dirt being piled in the river.
"Obviously, there's a lot of things that we'd love to see done on this project that we will never get changed just due to the nature of us getting involved in it too late," Schupp said.
DNR will observe the project to see whether the state will allow similar practices in the future, Wells said.
"We're going to learn from this one how well it works," he said. "If all the sediment just moves down river like they think it's going to and we're not having any problems, then maybe we overreacted a little bit
"But I think we're just going to wait and see. We just wanted the corps to be put on notice that we're going to watch this real close."
Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com