Floodway setback

Friday, September 28, 2007

After working with local, state and federal officials for half a century, residents of Scott, Mississippi and New Madrid counties in Southeast Missouri thought they were finally about to get protection from seasonal flooding of the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' $107 million St. John's Bayou/New Madrid Floodway Project was started to close a 1,500-foot gap in the levee that stretches most of the length of the lower Mississippi River.

Residents of that area have long endured flooding that destroys crops, isolates homes and businesses, cuts off children from their schools and, occasionally, kills people.

But a judge in Washington, D.C., agreed with Environmental Defense and the National Wildlife Federation, which filed a lawsuit in 2004 to stop the planned project. The judge said that, while communities may need flood protection, the Corps of Engineers project violated several federal environmental acts because it would not fully mitigate harm to fish habitats.

Environmental groups have been making these and similar claims for years in an effort to stymie the floodway project. The Corps of Engineers has contended that the project included provisions to offset the environmental concerns.

Ask the residents of the 400,000-acre area affected by the flooding. They are virtually unanimous in their support of the project. Now they -- and every other taxpayer -- may have to watch as the Corps of Engineers tears apart more than $7 million of work it has done on the project, unless the judge's order is overturned. Let's hope federal officials have the good sense not to remove any of the work until the judge's decision is either upheld or overturned.

This issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible. Every passing year without adequate protection means another year of dealing with flooding.

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