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Opinion: If you breach it, you fix it

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

President Obama spent time in the Midwest recently conducting a tour of rural America. We appreciate his interest in our part of the world, and would urge him to come back and continue his tour along the Missouri River, where historic flooding has displaced hundreds of rural residents and covered hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland.

His tour should include a stop in Southeast Missouri to see the result of this spring's flooding along the Mississippi River. A town meeting might help the president explain to area farmers why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced they will only rebuild the Birds Point Levee to 51 feet, a full 11 feet short of the levee height before the corps destroyed the levee this spring. The president might find that repairing the levee is not only the right thing to do, but also an example of economic stimulus that makes sense. This is, to borrow a phrase, the perfect example of a "shovel ready" project, and the economic benefits from rebuilding the levee to 62 feet will total in the billions of dollars over the coming years. At the end of the tour, we could sell those million dollar buses the Secret Service purchased and use the proceeds to finish rebuilding the levees.

The Mississippi River has exceeded 51 feet in 12 of the last 20 years. If the levees aren't rebuilt to their original height, farmers near the levee will have to question whether it makes sense to farm that ground at all. Financing for each spring's planting will be hard to obtain, and crop insurance will likely be unavailable, because the risks of planting will just be too high.

The corps blames budget constraints for the decision, saying they need an additional $20 million to rebuild the levee to its original specifications. The corps is holding Missouri farmers hostage to budget fights in Washington.

It may be that the corps is practicing the same tactics school boards use when money is tight. When a board feels that property taxes need to be increased, it's not unusual to threaten cutting out the football team to balance the budget. This is expected to force taxpayers into increasing the school tax. It's particularly effective when a school has a winning record and a quarterback who might possibly lead the team to the playoffs. The corps knows how unfair it is to punish Birds Point farmers for their sacrifices this spring. They know that the money will probably be found somewhere to completely rebuild those levees, so they are playing with people's lives in order to increase their funding in a time of tight budgets. The corps should quit this game immediately and do what is right.

Missouri's Gov. Nixon has courageously offered state funds to help rebuild the levees, but this is a federal levee, one that was destroyed by the federal government, and it's the federal government's responsibility to rebuild what it destroyed. As your mother told you every time you entered a store, "If you break it, you buy it." Your mother was right, and the federal government should be held to the same level of responsibility.

Blake Hurst, a farmer from Westboro, Mo., is the president of Missouri Farm Bureau.


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Well said, Mr. Hurst.

-- Posted by geoclay on Wed, Aug 24, 2011, at 8:45 AM

Birds Point levee protects 130,000 acres of farmland on the Missouri side and a 3,000 predominantly black and poor residential area on the Illinois side. In 1927, the last flood, the Corp blew up a levee and drowned poor black communities in order to save the property of rich whites.

The Missouri side is sparsely inhabited with only a handful (100 houses) of predominantly white and well-off landowners. Congress designated this sparsely inhabited area to be sacrificed in case of a flood, in 1927. The Illinois side was not designed to flood. The Corp did its job when it saved the residents of Cairo IL.

MO Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said, "We're uprooting families that have been here six generations." Sen. McCaskill and Blunt joined Jo Ann Emerson in sending a letter urging the Army Corps to fully restore the levee and the floodway "in full, without delay or red tape and without uncertainty of further hardship."

The Tea Party Terrorist have made it almost impossible to get Congress to do their job. Republicans are upholding Grover Norquist pledge and not their pledge to the Constitution. The government could do more if they had more revenue. The lack of money limits the governments ability to serve the people. In the case of the Missouri farmers, they have chosen to live in a flood zone. They may have lost their rights to farming. The government can no longer afford to pay for a levee that only protects 100 families.

-- Posted by joy6625 on Thu, Aug 25, 2011, at 12:56 AM


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