Many in Morehouse still angry at MoDOT for building berm to save U.S. 60

Monday, June 27, 2011
Bill Sprous uses a raft to help carry supplies through floodwater to his flooded Morehouse, Mo. home Saturday, April 30, 2011. (Laura Simon)

MOREHOUSE, Mo. -- The flood that threatened Morehouse was an act of God, but many in this water-ravaged New Madrid County city still believe their ruin was man-made.

Two months after much of the community was swallowed up by floodwaters, residents remain angry about the Missouri Department of Transportation's decision April 28 to build an earthen berm to keep U.S. 60 dry. Morehouse protested, and many community members say the man-made levee forced more water in, flooding the town of some 1,000 people and forcing scores from their homes.

A transportation department official counters that MoDOT was not responsible for the damage and that there is video evidence to prove it.

Morehouse Mayor Pete Leija said the community received no notice and that MoDOT constructed the levee in the middle of the night.

"That berm caused our water to go up six inches real quick. We had homes that were within an inch of going under," he said at the time.

Flooding was already taking place, he said, as the waters from the Little River -- basically a big drainage ditch -- overflowed its already meager banks. But MoDOT's decision made a bad situation worse, he said, and left the community in "quite a fix."

Bill Robison, the transportation department's Southeast District planning manager, in early May said that the levee was built to save U.S. 60.

"That water jeopardized Route 60 such to where it would have had to close down," Robison said. "We had to weigh the difference between keeping 60 open. That decision was made at the top at the state level, and SEMA was involved. That route had to be kept open for emergency services."

The department ultimately was forced to close the roadway from Sikeston to Dexter.

Dale Graham believes Morehouse was flooded to save U.S. 60.

"That's my opinion, and I think most people here feel the same way," said Graham, whose three-bedroom home has been condemned.

Rumors had circulated among residents early on that MoDOT would compensate them for their losses, but that is not the case.

Leija said the city has contemplated pursuing litigation against the department, if federal assistance falls far short of recovery needs.

John Koenig, the transportation department's regional counsel, said video shot by a National Guard helicopter directed by Sikeston Department of Public Safety director Drew Juden shows all of Morehouse, including U.S. 60, underwater hours before MoDOT started any water deflection attempts.

"So clearly all evidence points to a water source north of Morehouse as being the cause," Koenig wrote in an email to the Southeast Missourian. "Simply no evidence of MoDOT being a contributor exists and no demands or lawsuits to the contrary have been received."

Meanwhile, Morehouse has lost its Missouri Department of Natural Resources permit to burn materials. Leija acknowledges it was a clerical error on his part. He said he didn't fully read the DNR guidelines and that the time line to burn items was much shorter than he believed it to be.

Mountains of rotting drywall, plywood, plaster, carpet and ruined furniture fill lots where houses once stood.

Leija said the city is waiting on FEMA public assistance and has had to transfer capital improvement project money to cover general operating expenses.

"We don't have money to continue to pick up debris and the Dumpsters until FEMA comes through," he said.

mkittle@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Morehouse, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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