Corps of Engineers gives details on where flood recovery money will be spent

Friday, July 20, 2012
Bryan Harding, left, and his brother Josh survey the toe of the slope at the site of the intentional breach in the Birds Point Levee Thursday, July 19, 2012 in Mississippi County. The first phase of construction of the levee is expected to begin early next week. (Laura Simon)

CAIRO, Ill. -- A breakdown of more than $100 million that will be spent for recovery projects in three states was announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during a visit to Cairo on Thursday.

Col. Vernie Reichling, the corps' Memphis District commander, said the corps is breaking ground on a number of projects in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky after the flooding of 2011.

"This year we have a healthy construction season and the corps is very, very excited about this," Reichling said during a news conference on the Ohio riverfront in Cairo.

Col. Vernie Reichling, commander of the Memphis District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, fields questions about the rebuilding of the intentional breach of the Birds Point Levee during a news conference Thursday, July 19, 2012 at the Cairo, Ill., riverfront. Reichling also fielded questions on the affect the drought is having on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. (Laura Simon)

The drought causing the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to fall to near-historic low levels this year is both hurting and helping projects that are ongoing, such as repair to the floodwall and banks in Cairo, according to Reichling, but the corps anticipates all construction projects will be complete by the end of 2013.

The amount now committed to rebuilding Missouri's Birds Point levee -- which the corps breached last May -- is $20 million, but Reichling said that as of Thursday that there is a total of $45 million obligated for work to bring the levee up to 55 feet of protection. Around $46 million will be spent on recovery projects in Cairo and $6.5 million will be spent in Hickman, Ky.

Work to rebuild the Birds Point levee will resume early next week. Mississippi County farmers who own land in the floodway are relieved to see dirt begin to move, said Carlin Bennett, presiding commissioner.

"It's time to get to it," Bennett said. "Regardless of the drought going on this year, the farmers are worried about not having protection. We've all seen how quickly things can change."

A protest over a construction bid filed in June by an Oklahoma company delayed work for about a month and a half. The corps deemed the protest to be "without merit" and asked the contractor to resume repairs earlier in July.

Reichling said the corps would have liked to see the project move faster as well. But because conditions have changed since last year, he said, there have to be proper plans in place to make sure the levee is built to last.

"I understand their frustration, and I too have battled that," Reichling said. "Our goal has to be to restore this system as quickly as we possibly can."

Corps representatives met with Southeast Missouri property owners and county officials Wednesday to clear up a misconception over plans for the levee's final height, which the corps have promised to reconstruct to a height of 62.5 feet on the Cairo river gauge by the end of the year. A "confluence update" on the rebuilding of the levee sent out last week by the corps did not specify the levee's final height, according to Bennett, and caused some alarm among county officials and farmers who own property in the floodway.

"I guess at this point I can say we are satisfied that the corps are actually going to fulfill their obligation to rebuild it where it should be," Bennett said Thursday.

Reichling said work on the first phase of Birds Point, which will bring the levee to 55 feet on the Cairo gauge, is expected to be complete in September. Phase two will bring the levee to its full height and install operating mechanisms. Reichling said the corps will likely announce in early August when it will begin the second phase.

The $26 million project in Cairo will help prevent erosion of the banks of the Ohio River during flooding and reinforce the floodwall.

"This is great to see this happening in a community such as ours," Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman said. "That the government is willing to invest that kind of money gives me hope for the future. Twenty-six million dollars -- that's a lot of money to put into a depressed area."

Both the Birds Point levee restoration and the project in Cairo were designated "high risk" by the corps, meaning there is potential for loss of life if the system fails.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Cairo, IL

Wyatt, MO

Hickman, KY

Map of pertinent addresses

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