Corps general says levee repairs will be joint effort

Friday, June 10, 2011
Mike Sprinkles, left, and Bobby Carter look out over the breached Birds Point levee Wednesday, June 1, 2011. (Laura Simon)
Maj. Gen. Merdith W. B. (Bo) Temple, Deputy Commanding General for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, speaks at a news conference at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport following a tour of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway and other areas affected by flooding in the region. Behind him are R.D. James, member of the Mississippi River Commission, and Col. Vernie Reichling, right. (Kristin Eberts)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' top engineer said after touring damage Thursday in the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway the corps will work with local and state officials to fix the levee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Nixon said in a letter to the corps that the state stands ready to construct a temporary levee at the site of the initial breach by the corps in Mississippi County. Maj. Gen. Meredith W. B. "Bo" Temple said in a news conference Thursday at the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport that he hasn't seen the letter but did discuss it during lunch Thursday.

"The conclusion we came to was that as local entities determine how they might be able to contribute to this effort to begin to restore the levees we will work in partnership with them," Temple said.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who accompanied Temple on his tour, said levee districts in the floodway are presenting their own plans for levee repairs to the corps' office in Memphis this week.

"I think it was helpful that the general was willing to come in," Emerson said of Temple. "He is the final decision maker on the military side in D.C."

There is also a civilian head of civil works for the Army.

Temple is holding to the timetable previously announced to have a temporary levee in place by March.

"We want to get the system capable of absorbing next year's typical spring flooding," he said.

Emerson said that timetable is unacceptable, leaving farmers who want to get a crop in this season at risk of floods. Although floods are now forecast on the Missouri River, the corps doesn't expect it to cause renewed flooding on the Mississippi.

Weather forecasters estimate it would take a fairly significant rainfall of 5 to 7 inches over a wide area of the lower Missouri, middle Mississippi or middle-to-lower Ohio River valleys to turn the Mississippi River back above flood stage near Cairo, according to a memo from the corps' water control chief to the division commander that was provided to the AP.

Regardless of the rainfall, many officials want the levee repaired as soon as possible.

"There are many issues that would need to be addressed yet, including cost and construction, but the governor believes it is important to try and give those farmers the best opportunity possible to have a growing season in this area," said Scott Holste, Nixon's press secretary.

Nixon has also asked the corps to expedite its review process so the work can be done quickly. Holste said the state has not received a written response from the corps but continues to stay in contact with officials.

According to Emerson, Nixon is willing to pledge $3 million in state funds toward a temporary levee. Holste did not confirm that amount.

Emerson expects Congress to pass a supplemental disaster appropriations bill once more damage assessments are completed but said it will likely take resources from federal, state and local governments to help repair the levee.

Of the 130,000 acres intentionally flooded by the corps May 2, about 30,000 acres are still underwater, said corps spokesman Jim Pogue.

New Madrid County Clerk Clement Cravens said by phone Thursday that the initial breach site isn't the only place where repairs are needed. He believes water was still flowing into New Madrid County through the second breach, originally designed to handle outflow.

"We're trying to get the message out to close these breaches as soon as possible. The northern one is not the only one that needs to be closed. We've got another one causing problems," Cravens said.

According to the corps, however, water from the Mississippi River is no longer coming into any of the three crevasses where the levee was intentionally breached.

"Almost all the outflow is going through what is commonly known as Mud Ditch. There is no further inflow in the floodway. It's all out now," said Col. Vernie Reichling, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District following the news conference.

Water was flowing out of the floodway at 6,890 cubic feet per second Thursday morning at Mud Ditch according to U.S. Geological Service measurements, he said.

"The water you're seeing in the floodway is the impounded water that just can't get out. It can't find its way to a channel," Reichling said.

Temple said he wouldn't discount the possibility that when the levee is permanently restored, its design would include gates.

"We'll do some initial repairs first. We'll then look to restoring the system to its design specifications and then looking further into the future it is a consideration that we may look to operating and or constructing this spillway in a different way," he said.

The corps opened a temporary office Wednesday in New Madrid where people may file claims for compensation for damages resulting from the intentional levee breach.

Corps officials would not confirm how many claims have been filed to date.

Staff reporter M.D. Kittle contributed to this report.


Pertinent address:

Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, Cape Girardeau, Mo

705 U.S. 61, New Madrid, MO

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