Bond promises Dutchtown aid

Saturday, April 12, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Sen. Kit Bond was greeted by Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson and Tom Schulte as he left the helicopter following an aerial tour of flooded areas Friday.

During a visit to Cape Girardeau on Friday to view flood damage and rising water with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Sen. Kit Bond promised to seek federal funding to build a levee to protect Dutchtown from future floods as soon as local matching money is available.

Speaking to local and federal officials and reporters after a helicopter tour of flood-damaged areas, Bond also blamed environmentalists for putting Missourians in peril from rising Mississippi River waters.

Bond and Col. Thomas P. Smith, commander of the Memphis District of the corps, took a helicopter tour of areas hit hard by major storms March 18 and 19 and still in danger of flooding as additional storms have covered the area and kept the Mississippi River and its tributaries running high.

Representatives of Dutchtown, Cape Girardeau County, Bond's office and U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson met earlier Friday to discuss the steps needed to construct the $3 million proposed levee that would protect the town. The federal government will put up 65 percent of the cost. The remaining $1 million must come from other sources, which can include state or local funds. Town leaders believe they have cash and commitments worth more than $500,000.

When the town has taken the necessary steps to qualify for corps help, Bond said, "Jo Ann and I will fight for funding."

In his remark about environmentalists, Bond was referring to the ongoing battle over the $107 million New Madrid Floodway Project, a corps initiative designed to close a gap in the Mississippi River levees at New Madrid, Mo. A lengthy court battle halted construction on the project last year and federal courts ordered the corps to remove structures already in place.

Levees are smart investments, Bond said. "I am convinced these projects save taxpayer dollars, property and lives," he said.

AARON EISENHAUER ~ Senator Kit Bond talks with Col. Thomas P. Smith, commander of the Memphis district of the Army Corps of Engineers, before an aerial tour of the flooded areas of Southeast Missouri on Friday, April 11, 2008.

The Memphis District is responsible for enforcing the Flood Control Act of 1928, Smith said. That law, passed in response to the devastating 1927 flood along the lower Mississippi River, requires the corps to protect people and property from the "maximum probable flood," Smith said. That is defined as the largest flood that can be expected from a combined flooding on the upper Mississippi River, the Missouri River, the Ohio River and smaller tributaries.

The gap at New Madrid was originally included as a relief valve on the river to keep high water from pressing on levees downstream.

"If we could only get the courts off your back, we could do even more," Bond said to Smith.

As he spoke with local officials and reporters after taking his tour, Bond defended earmarked funds he obtains as a senior member of the Senate. Earmarks are vital to Missouri flood-control projects such as the Cape La Croix Creek drainage channel and the LaSalle detention basin in Cape Girardeau, which city officials credit for preventing more than $100 million in damage during the March 18 and 19 storms.

"Earmarks, backed by local officials and with a significant local effort, do a better job of spending federal dollars," Bond said.

Bond, a U.S. senator since 1987 and a former Missouri governor, has seen repeated floods while in office, ranging from 1973 floods touched off by massive rainstorms like the one that hit Southeast Missouri on March 18 to the 1993 floods caused by months of repeated heavy rains in the Missouri River and upper Mississippi River watersheds.

The Memphis District is responsible for the Mississippi River from the south bank of the Diversion Channel to northern Arkansas and Mississippi.

Federal and state officials are beginning to get a handle on costs of recovering from the March 18 and 19 storms that dumped up to 13 inches of rain on the region. The Missouri Department of Transportation at some point in the past month has closed more than 1,000 miles of roads in the Southeast Missouri district due to high water.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported to Bond that as of April 9, 2,464 people have registered for help and $6.14 million has been distributed. The average waiting time from an application to verification of damages is 1.75 days, and 48 households have qualified for the maximum grant of $28,800.

In Cape Girardeau County, 268 people have registered for help, said Jack Heesch of FEMA. In Bollinger County, 128 residents have applied for aid and 95 Scott County residents have sought help, he said.

So far, 36 people have visited the Disaster Recovery Center at 502 W. Main St. in Jackson to obtain assistance, he said.

The Memphis District of the corps has spent $1.5 million to respond to flooding since March 18, Smith said. That includes deploying more than 40 people for field work and sending material such as sandbags and pumps to aid in controlling floodwaters.

335-6611, extension 126

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