Mo. ag director: Insurance will cover crop losses

Friday, May 6, 2011
Dr. Jon Hagler, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, spoke to about 100 people at Delta Growers in Charleston Thursday about state and federal assistance for those who are affected by the Birds Point levee breach. (Melissa Miller)

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- About 100 farmers and their families packed into the Delta Growers Association conference room and spilled out into the hallways Thursday hoping to hear help is on the way.

"It was a very emotional time for all of you as you had to watch the destruction of that levee that terrible evening," said Davis Minton, deputy director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. "But as all the people here today has indicated, we're all here for a common cause now, to move forward beyond that moment to what it's going to take to put your lives back together again."

Missouri Department of Agriculture director Dr. Jon Hagler led Thursday's meeting with owners of property now flooded after the intentional breach of the Birds Point levee.

He assured farmers, after his discussions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that federal crop insurance programs would cover their losses even though the policies don't typically cover acts of man.

That includes crops that were in the ground during the levee breach and those that were yet to be planted.

"If you have insurance, you are going to be covered," Hagler said. USDA will hold meetings throughout the Bootheel to offer assistance next week, he said.

USDA funds are also available to help repair damaged cropland and an emergency loan programs will also will help farmers recover from both production and physical losses.

Lawyer Dean White told Hagler it is important that these government programs get detailed information out about the programs to those affected soon.

"People here are scared," he said. "I've been approached by clients, and I'm advising them to wait to see the extent of the damage and what help is offered. I think it's a mistake to go out and pay lawyers right now."

Questions were also asked about what help is available to those who didn't purchase crop insurance this year and instead were insuring their crops with their own savings. Hagler said he would check with the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Emergency Management Agency for people in that situation.

Some of the meeting's attendees not only raised crops in the spillway but also lived there. Now that their homes are underwater, they're wondering where to go now.

"My family is staying in a camper right now," George Curtis said. "Everything that was in our house is gone. I'm sitting here with an empty pocket. I can't make a down payment on another house and there is no rental property available, I've checked. I need some relief."

Curtis said after National Guard soldiers came to his door and told him to evacuate, his family had only one hour to pack up.

Jonell Nally, whose home is in the floodway, has been staying with her in-laws for the past week. She had flood insurance but only insured the house for the amount of her bank loan.

"My kids keep asking me, 'When's this all going to be over?' I say, 'Baby, I just don't know.'"

Ivan Jones is frustrated he hasn't been able to access his property to check on his father's home, his farm's shop building and fuel tanks. Even before the first levee breach occurred, National Guard troops prevented him from going into the area.

"Do we not have rights as landowners to go in and check on our stuff if we're willing to risk our own safety to do so?" Jones said.

He'd heard that robbers had traveled into the area by boat and were stealing things before the levee breach.

Hagler told Jones to work with the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department, which now has jurisdiction over securing the spillway, to get to his property. There have also been reports of people trying to fish in the spillway area, which was causing problems, Hagler said.

Several people asked whose responsibility it would be to clean out drainage ditches in and around the spillway. The Consolidated Drainage District No. 1 has the equipment and the ability to do this work, but doesn't have the funds to pay for it, Glenn Ault said.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said because these ditches serve the public there may be FEMA assistance available.

Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday requested a federal major disaster declaration for 38 Missouri counties affected by storms and flooding since April 19. If the declaration is granted, it would pave the way for more federal funding for recovery efforts.

Emerson said she expects Congress to look at an emergency supplemental appropriations bill because several states are now dealing with the aftermath of severe weather and floods.

She's optimistic that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may have a new temporary levee built by midsummer.

"We will move forward as quickly as possible so we could try to get some kind of crop in perhaps for fall," she said.

Emerson hopes they will be able to avoid lengthy environmental review processes that could delay rebuilding.

"We're researching this and believe there is a possibility that if we rebuild the levee to the exact specifications, we may be able to avoid a long involved regulatory process," Emerson said.

In order to try to keep another intentional breach from happening at Birds Point, Emerson said she's willing to work to amend the Flood Control Act of 1927.

Emerson said that in a discussion earlier Thursday with Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, he asked her what she though of installing gates in the rebuilt levee, to avoid using explosives to activate the floodway.

Emerson said she didn't like that idea and the crowd also rumbled with a collective no.

It is important the community work together and work with local agencies as the area's recovery moves forward, Hagler said.

"I know you've had a tough lick. The governor knows it. I think everybody from the president down knows it," Hagler said. "Now, let's show them in this state we value farmers, we value farmland, we value farm communities and we are going to roll up our sleeves and come together and do everything in our being to make sure we get back on our feet."

mmiller@semissourian.com

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