PR firm to make documentary about floodway

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- A St. Louis firm is putting together a documentary to tell the story of the devastation caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' activation of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

Osborn and Barr, an agricultural marketing and public relations firm in St. Louis, is "disappointed with how this whole thing unfolded," according to Neil Caskey, director of advocacy and rural affairs for the firm.

Documentary makers from the firm met with Mississippi County officials during the regular county commission meeting Thursday to get information about the county government's perspective on the floodway activation.

Commissioners have estimated for the Federal Emergency Management Agency that the cost to restore the county's infrastructure in the spillway -- roads, ditches and bridges -- could be nearly $75 million.

To put that cost into perspective, county officials noted the county's annual budget for maintaining its infrastructure is roughly $1 million.

FEMA's regular assistance grants require local matching funds of 15-25 percent, Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett said.

"We would struggle right now to pay 1 percent of the $75 million," he said.

County Clerk Junior DeLay noted FEMA's Public Assistance Grant Program reimburses the county for approved disaster recovery costs.

With a total annual budget of about $5 million per year, including restricted funds, "the county doesn't have the funds to make all these repairs and then get the reimbursements," DeLay said.

Commissioner Robert Jackson said there are "miniature grand canyons" cutting across access roads in the spillway and the county is unable to restore them.

"We do not have the resources; we do not have the equipment," he said.

County officials said the most devastating damage from the recent flooding was not a natural disaster but from the three breaches in the frontline levee made by the Corps.

"This is not an act of nature, this is an act of man," said Commissioner Steve Jones.

Jones said that the county and its residents are now facing "red tape" and federal restrictions that should be waived.

"The government caused this problem," he said. "It was caused by the corps and should be taken care of by the government."

Bennett said that unlike other disasters in the state that could clearly be seen in video footage, the levee was breached "under the cover of darkness."

"A large portion of our disaster is still under water," he added.

Bennett said officials are bracing themselves for the "domino effect" the hit to agriculture will have on the entire county. "This community is based on farming," he said.

Commissioners said the county is made up of hard workers who just want to move forward now, however.

"The main interest is getting this levee closed up," Jones said. The "quickest help" would be to rebuild the levee "and never operate the floodway again," he said.

"Let it be what it was supposed to be: a spillway, not a disaster area," Jackson said.

Bennett said it was the "current and velocity" that caused all the damage to what he believes is the "best farmland in the country -- maybe the world. Now it's ruined, it's gone."

And with the levee still breached, any rise in the river means farmers lose yet another crop and with it a chance to recover.

"Give us the tools to let us help ourselves," Jackson said. "Let us get back to farming."

Caskey said several of the people working on the documentary project grew up in Southeast Missouri and are amazed at the amount of misinformation being put out by media sources about the activation of the floodway.

"There are folk that need to know the whole story," he said.

The documentary team has been interviewing farmers, businesses owners and government officials and gathering film footage they hope will "tell their story," Caskey said.

The documentary is intended "for a Congressional audience," he said, but will also be distributed through regional media sources.

Caskey said they hope to have the documentary ready to present at the Delta Center's next Field Day in Portageville.

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Charleston, MO

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