Visitors from Asia tour the spillway to gain insight

Monday, June 27, 2011
Participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program from Southeast Asia visited the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway on Friday to view damage to farmland. Visitors also looked over damaged farmland at O'Bryan's Ridge at County Road 310. (Scott Welton ~ Standard Democrat)

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- Mississippi County officials hosted visitors from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand on a tour of the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway.

By viewing the area firsthand, the visitors hoped to gain insight on the breaches blasted into the levee by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the effect of the subsequent flooding in the spillway.

Before visiting the spillway Friday, commissioners showed the areas to be visited on a map of the county and discussed some of the issues of activating the floodway.

Presiding Commissioner Carlin Bennett explained how the volume and velocity of water from the Mississippi River cut gorges and channels in the county's farmland, including 60-foot-deep "blue holes" next to the breaches.

Once a blue hole has been dug, the levee must be rebuilt around it when it is restored. "You can't put enough sand in the hole to fill it up," Bennett said.

As the water slows, he said, topsoil is covered with inches or even feet of sand and silt as they drop out of the water.

Commissioner Robert Jackson said that while "well-meaning environmentalists" often lobby for wetland projects, activation of the floodway killed wildlife with floodwaters and crowded prey animals and predators together.

"There is nothing environmentally friendly about what was done," Jackson said.

"If you ask us, we will say it didn't work. If you ask the corps, they'll say 'it worked as designed,'" Bennett said.

One of the visitors asked if the government has reimbursed any of the residents or property owners for their losses.

"Not yet," commissioners responded.

Another visitor said the levee system enables people to "encroach" on the river closer than would otherwise be possible and asked if it might be better to abandon the land and let it return to its natural state.

Commissioners explained the farmland is too valuable.

"We have no problem with natural flooding," Jackson said, "but don't want to artificially run a river through our house."

Upon viewing the devastated farmland in the spillway, visitors asked who would be paying to restore the farmland to the usable condition.

Commissioners said landowners are doing the best they can at this point to do it on their own and haven't received any offers of help from the federal government yet.

The visitors are participants in the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs International Visitor Leadership Program, a professional exchange program that seeks to build mutual understanding between the U.S. and other nations through carefully designed short-term visits.

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